Singing in the Sunshine: Cultural Exchange in Seattle

World Music Café
Music and Dance from the Auvergne
(Singing & Dancing Workshops)
Lake City Community Center
Seattle, Washington
August 19, 2006

I’m grateful to live in a city rife with cultural exchange organizations. Seattle is home to the non-profit eco-travel organization, Crooked Trails, the Northwest Folklife Festival, the UW World Music Series and school outreach programs and many other cultural organizations. Recently I learned of a new cultural exchange start-up, World Music Café, masterminded by musician and world traveler, Joanne Lauterjung Kelly.

Joanne’s first World Music Café venture, Music and Dance from the Auvergne featured a full day of participatory song and dance workshops with an evening of contra dancing, held at the Lake City Community Center and taught by former Washingtonian musician Shauna Brown and Michel Alloza, (from Albi, France).

A picnic that broke up the day’s activities welcomed the public to share food, music and culture. The musicians that gathered to break bread and explore France’s Occitan cultures, languages and history left me with a lot of food for thought, not just about music, but about how we perceive culture in general. The origins of Parisian café music which was exported from the Auvergne by laborers in search of work in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, as well as, bagpipes, the hurdy-gurdy, language and identity were all discussed as chocolate melted on the picnic canvas, watermelon slices were passed around and the sun poured relentlessly on my back.

The well-attended picnic reminded me of scenes from French movies where groups of artists discuss a variety of topics while sharing a bounty of food and wine. We founded our own artist colony on the lawn of the Lake City Public Library and the cultural exchange that took place felt as natural as the air we breathe (minus the pollution, of course). We sang a song that we had learned earlier complete with drone. And one musicians performed on French bagpipes. Even the birds in the trees appeared to be enjoying themselves.

One of Joanne’s goals for starting World Music Café is, “to provide a structured activity to bring diverse people together in a fun and non-threatening environment to socialize, interact and learn.” Certainly the environment was non-threatening and learning songs in another language also proved non-threatening and even non-competitive, an added bonus. I normally do not experience uninhibited playtime so I enjoyed the workshop immensely. The first song workshop attracted a small group of musicians, mostly women, but the other workshops attracted 12 to 16 participants and close to 80 participants attended the evening contra dance which featured local talent, KGB and Adam Carlson.

During the first workshop and the only one I attended, the instructor, Michel Alloza taught us songs in his native Occitan dialect and Parisian French while his partner Shauna translated the instruction into English. She also provided phonetic pronunciations for us French-impaired folks. Michel’s sense of humor and knowledge of Occitan, (Provence, Auvergne, Limousine), history and traditional music created a fun learning environment. And in fact, I am still singing the song, Vai, vai, vai, moralhada, a cute bourrèe song about a dirty-faced child. We even sang an old eating song, translated could cause vegetarians to cringe. The song was traditionally sung to ensure smooth digestion.

During a short conversation with Joanne after the picnic, she had mentioned that she wants to explore a vast array of cultures, from Southeast Asia to West Africa to European culture and beyond. Part of her passion for song and dance of other cultures comes from her years of musically exploring these cultures and world travel. Certainly I can relate to her passion for cultural exchange and music.

Joanne is still growing her organization and is seeking like-minded organizations and musicians to support her mission and form alliances that “promote cultural understanding and compassion through participatory world music and dance.” She is not short on ideas and some of her ideas include, creating a web site that promotes amateur music-making and dance in the Seattle area, producing a radio program where musicians and dancers from various cultures are interviewed about the role music plays in their lives and podcasting interviews with musicians and dancers to various locations.

To get involved and support Joanne and World Music Café, please visit, or send an e-mail to

Musicians, dancers and music lovers are encouraged to have fun exploring the music of other cultures and to participate.