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What are the artists taking part in this year’s International Festival looking forward to the most? In the lead up to opening night, we've invited a number of performers to tell us what’s on their must-see list.


Here are Karine Polwart's Festival highlights:

1. Dancing in the Streets

I know and love Janice Parker and her attentiveness to people, place, gesture and movement. I’m so delighted that the International Festival is recognising the quiet, mature artistry of  Small Acts of Hope and Lament, her tender, daily dance practice of “duets with nature” in Holyrood Park, during lockdown. It’s a form of intimate, embodied artistic resistance to 21st century noise.   

2. Fatoumata Diawara

If Janice Parker conjures the richness of what's small and local, then singer, songwriter and electric guitarist, Fatoumata Diawara brings the mighty sound of another world to the city. She blends the southern Malian musical traditions of her parents with contemporary writing on the experiences of African women, global diasporas, religious fundamentalism and ethnic conflict. Politicised and passionate, joyous and infectious, she’ll light up Edinburgh Park, no doubt. 

Fatoumata Diawara stands in a desert landscape, wearing a blue cape that billows around her.

Fatoumata Diawara

Credit: Aida Muluneh 2017

One of a trio of gigs rooted in Scottish and Irish traditional music, curated by fiddler and composer Aidan O’Rourke, another long-time Edinburgh resident artist. The series is co-produced locally with The Soundhouse Organisation, which deserves a standing ovation for its stellar support over the past year for folk, jazz and indie musicians, from Edinburgh and beyond. I deeply miss the resonance of people singing together in shared space, so the line-up of Liam Ó Maonlaí (of Hothouse Flowers), American troubadour Sam Amidon, Gaelic harmony trio Sian and sean-nós singer  Róisín Chambers  will surely be a balm for the ears and bodily cells.  

0 Stars

exactly the kind of switched-on, global-perspective I need. 

Karine Polwart on A Toast to the People

4. A Toast To The People: Francesca Beard and Rafeef Ziadah

If I could, I’d go to every event in this spoken-word series co-curated with Edinburgh International Book Festival. But the season finale of Malaysian-born Francesca Beard and Palestinian human rights activist Rafeef Ziadeh, both of whom are based in London, is exactly the kind of switched-on, global-perspective I need. 

Head shot of Francesca Beard wearing a black and gold metallic top with badges

Francesca Beard

5. University of Edinburgh: The Living Archive

I made my first appearance at the International Festival nearly 20 years ago, in a series informed by the Centre for Political Song archive at Caledonian University. This year, three pals and peers – clarsach player and singer Mary McMaster, Scots singer and songwriter Kirsty Law and multi-instrumentalist and composer Mike Vass – mark the 70th Anniversary of the School of Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh and its national folklore archive. My own journey into traditional singing and music-making began in the school’s archive audio vaults in the late 1990s. It’s one of Scotland's cultural gems. 


Karine Polwart performs with Dave Milligan at this year’s International Festival as part of the In the Tradition music series.


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