Fado music is the heart of the Portuguese soul. It is one of the oldest urban folk music styles in the world. Some say it came as a dance from Africa in the 19th century and was adopted by the poor on the streets of Lisbon. Or perhaps it started at sea as the sad, melodic songs created by homesick sailors and fishermen.
Whatever its origins, fado’s themes have remained constant: destiny, betrayal in love, death and despair. A typical lyric goes: “Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you’re not there.” It’s a sad music and a fado performance is not successful if an audience is not moved to tears.
All fado is dominated by the sentiment known as saudade. While there is no precise English definition for this word, it may be translated roughly as ‘yearning.’ Essentially it describes the soul of the music and is the measure of understanding that passes between performer and audience.
By the early twentieth century, fado had become popular in the everyday life of Lisbon’s working class. It was played for pleasure but also to relieve the pain of life. Skilled singers known as fadistas performed at the end of the day and long into the night. Fado was the earthy music of taverns and brothels and street corners in Alfama and Mouraria, the old poor sections of Lisbon. (Another strain of fado, Coimbra fado, was favored among university students and professors.)
The fado is normally sung by men or women and accompanied by one Portuguese guitar and one classical guitar, which in Portugal is called viola. This song reached its golden era in the first half of the 20th century, when the Portuguese dictatorship of Salazar (1926-1968) forced the fado performers to become professional and confined them to sing in the fado houses and the so called “revistas”, a popular genre of “vaudeville”.
The main names of that period were: Alfredo Marceneiro, Amalia Rodrigues, Maria Teresa de Noronha and guitar players Armandinho and Jaime Santos.
From the 1940s until her death in 1999, the towering figure of Portuguese fado was Amalia Rodrigues. She was the diva of fado, worshiped at home and celebrated abroad as the most famous representative of Portuguese culture. When she died the country’s prime minister called for three-days of national mourning. Such is the hold of fado over the people of Portugal.
The essential element of fado music is saudade, a Portuguese word that translates roughly as longing, or nostalgia for unrealized dreams. Fado flowers from this fatalistic world-view. It speaks of an undefined yearning that can’t be satisfied. For Portuguese emigrants fado is an expression of homesickness for the place they left behind.
Like other forms of deeply moving folk music such as flamenco, American blues, Argentine tango or Greek rembetiko, fado cannot be explained; it must be felt and experienced. One must have the soul to transmit that feeling; a fadista who does not possess saudade is thought of as inauthentic. Audiences are very knowledgeable and very demanding. If they do not feel the fadista is up to form they will stop a performance.
Fado can be performed by men or women, although many aficionados prefer the raw emotion of the female fadista. Dressed in black with a shawl draped over her shoulders, a fadista stands in front of the musicians and communicates through gesture and facial expressions. The hands move, the body is stationary. When it is done correctly, it is a solemn and majestic performance.
Aside from the Lisbon fado there is another completely different form of this song, sung by the students of Coimbra University whose ancient roots can be found in the medieval songs called trovas. Here the subjects are mainly love, friendship and nostalgia. This form of fado reached its most famous period in the 1950s and 1960s when names like Edmundo Bettencourt, Luis Gois, José Afonso and the musicians Artur Paredes, Carlos Paredes and Antonio Portugal among others, combined new forms and lyrics to a song which was limited to student circles.
The traditional accompaniment for the fadista is a Portuguese guitar, or guitarra, a 12-stringed instrument, and a bass guitar, or viola. Sometimes a second acoustic guitar is added. In recent years, fado recordings have added piano, violin and accordion, instruments which sometimes accompany the music on the streets of Lisbon.
Today the younger generation in Portugal is respectful but not dedicated to fado. However, a new generation of young musicians have contributed to the social and political revival of fado music, adapting and blending it with new trends.
Contemporary fado musicians like Misia have introduced the music to performers such as Sting. Misia and fadistas like Cristina Branco and Mariza, Amelia Muge, Antonio Zambujo, Ana Lains, Ana Moura, Joana Amendoeira, Katia Guerreiro, Mafalda Arnauth, walk the fine line between carrying on the tradition and trying to bring in a new audience.
(Sources: World Music Central, World Music Institute, World Music Network)
Coimbra Fado is a genre of fado originating in the city of Coimbra, Portugal. This fado is closely linked to the academic traditions of the University of Coimbra and is exclusively sung by men; both the singers and musicians wear black capes during performances, the remaining part of the students outfit. It is sung at night, almost in the dark, in city squares, streets, or fado houses. (source: Fado group Verdes Anos)
The following artists perform fado or fado-influenced music: Ala Dos Namorados, Almaplana, Amélia Muge, Ana Laíns, Ana Marina, Ana Moura, Antonio Chainho, Antonio Zambujo, Armenio de Melo, Bicho de 7 cabeças, Camané, Catarina Cardeal, Cristina Branco, Custodio Castelo, Duarte, Grupo Cancao de Coimbra, Joana Amendoeira, Jorge Fernando, Katia Guerreiro, Lula Pena, Mario Pacheco, Madredeus, Mafalda Arnauth, Maria Amelia Proen, Mariza, Melian, Mike Siracusa, Misia, Nem Truz Nem Muz), Ramana Vieira, Sonia Tavares, Teresa Salgueiro, Verdes Anos – Fado group, Cuca Roseta, Yolanda Soares, Raquel Tavares, Gisela João, Claudia Aurora, Carla Pires and Joana Rios.
Have you been staring at those cans of green beans in your pantry and wondering if you can wrap up the lot as a gift for your grandma; your inner self whispering seductively, ‘grandma likes green beans’ in hopes of striking at least one name off your Christmas gift list?
Have you caught yourself rifling through the kitchen junk drawer, the top shelf of the linen cupboard or the deepest, darkest part of the closet where the ugly sweaters go to die in desperate desire to finish Christmas shopping while still dressed in your flannel pajamas?
When you find that baby shower gift for that woman in your office you didn’t know all that well and ditched the shower anyway still wrapped on the shelf in the garage, do you think to yourself, “Well, I’m sure someone on my list has a baby and maybe they’ll appreciate the yellow duckie paper” just to cross off another name?
Has the idea of regifting lost its shame and is now a challenge to see if you can remember who not to give what gift you got last year?
It’s easy to slip into a desperate dash in the season of synchronized shopping, scooping up items you don’t really need and no one in your family will want. That said, let me just say one world to you – music.
Music is the answer to all your holiday shopping needs.
There’s music itself. Certainly, there’s a favorite recording for each person on your list this year. With digital music, it becomes super easy to create collection of music for friends and loved ones. Whipping up a personal playlist of love songs for the special someone for each year of your relationship or favorite hymns from childhood for a dear auntie or just popular tunes from your teenage years for a best friend are easy and quick.
There’s musical instruments, kits for beginners, music making software, books about musicians, sweet musical gifts for lulling baby to sleep, music posters, music on socks and scarves, music instrument jewelry, music documentaries and music on CD, DVD and vinyl… That’s were the World Music Central Gift Guide comes into play. For the next couple of days, World Music Central will have a revolving list of musically-inspired gift ideas for every person on your list. Picking the perfect gift of music is simple as a scroll through our gift guide.
It can be hard to summon up that holiday mojo when the weather’s turned mean, your five year-old won’t wear anything other than the Batman costume he put on for Halloween and the forced merriment of newscasters about the upcoming holiday season makes your teeth hurt.
There’s cookies to be baked, parties to be planned, presents to buy and you’re feeling harassed instead of ho-ho-ho. There’s no use claiming the holidays just sneaked up on you either considering the displays of Christmas decorations hit the shelves about ten minutes after the five year-old slipped on the batsuit. What you need is some holiday music. Good thing we’ve got the rundown on some 2018 playlist holiday treats.
I’m not exactly sure you’ll want to start out your foray into the wonderful world of Christmas with William Shatner on his Shatner Claus release (B07HNFZ5LS), even with Brad Paisley’s help on “Blue Christmas” or Joe Louis Walker’s help on “Little Drummer Boy,” but this CD is amusing as hell.
There are little warm fuzzies on this recording unless you plan to pull that Christmas sweater over your head. What Shatner Claus does have is musical masters like Henry Rollins, Rick Wakeman, Todd Rundgren and Iggy Pop lending their talents to Mr. Shatner’s interpretation of holiday classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Silver Bells” and “Silent Night.” And, I do have to admit that Shatner’s version of “Feliz Navidad” with Dani Bander is a scream.
Also, out on the pop Christmas scene is John Legend with his A Legendary Christmas (B07JL9P74R) with guest appearances by Stevie Wonder on “What Christmas Means to Me” and Esperanza Spalding on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Snazzy jazzy tracks like “Christmas Time Is Here,” “The Christmas Song” and “Please Come Home for Christmas” have a sweet Nat King Cole feel.
Even rocker Eric Clapton has got the Christmas spirit with his release Happy Xmas. Clapton offers up tracks like “White Christmas,” “Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday,” “Home for the Holidays,” “Lonesome Christmas” and the bluesy “Merry Christmas Baby.”
For world music fans there’s Putumayo Presents Joy to the World with sweet little goodies like Nossa Bossa Nova’s “The First Noel,” Frederick de Grandpre’s “Noel Avec Toi,” Jan Luna’s “Winter Wonderland,” Lynn August’s “Christmas by the Bar-B-Que,” The Mighty Diamonds’s “Frosty the Snowman” and Leon Redbone’s “Christmas Island.”
One of my favorites has to be Natt i desember (Night in December) by Iver Kleive and Knut Reiersrud from our friends at the Kirkelig Kulturverksted label. Stunning and deeply atmospheric Natti i desember is chocked full of goodies like “A kom, a kom, Immanuel,” “Stille natt,” “A Betlehem, du vesle by” and “Bjelleklang.”
Recorded at the Haderslev Cathedral in Denmark, this recording is a lush listen into some familiar songs of peace and praise of the season by way of a Nordic take.
Kammerochester Basel offer up the classical recording Porpora: Il verbo in carne (Christmas Oratorio on the Sony Classical label. This Christmas oratorio by Nicola Porpora tells the Christmas story by way of the Chamber Orchestra Basel under the direction of Riccardo Manasi featuring soloists Roberta Invernizzi, Terry Wey and Martin Vanberg.
Listeners looking for a classical take on Christmas and some superb vocalists are sure to enjoy this offering.
As a nod to the kickoff of their November 27th Holiday Caravan Tour, two new songs “Mardi Gras for Christmas” and “Alone for Christmas” are available for download as additions to their original 1998 Christmas Caravan recording. Surely “Mardi Gras for Christmas” will have the joint jumping at any holiday party.
Lushly backed by Ms. Savall’s Baroque ensemble Hirundo Maris, this recording is simply lovely with delights like “El Desembre congelat,” “Mitt hjerte alltid vanker,” “Wexford Carol,” “Kling no, klokka,” “Rug Muire Mac Do Dhia” and “Stille Nacht.”
Greg Herriges leads StellaRoma members Michal Bissonnette, Rundio, Pooja Goswami Pavan, Abhinav Sharma and Tatiana Riabokin on their Revel & Ritual. This is truly a recording for all seasons as StellaRoma takes listeners on a journey of holiday music from around the world.
A song for the Hindu Holi Festival of Colors (“Garuda/Khelat Rang Holi) or a song celebrating the Japanese Spring Cherry Blossom Festival (“Sakura, Sakura”) or a song for the Muslim holy day of Ashura (“Ashura”) make this recording delightful.
Fans might want to check out the season appropriate Basque song of the Annunciation “Birjina Gazetto Bat Zegoen,” the traditional Hebrew song “Sevivon, Sov Sov Sov” done up in a neo-Klezmer style or the 16th century Spanish Christmas carol “Foom, Foom, Foom.” There’s also version of a traditional Ukrainian New Year’s song called “Shchedryk.”
Available on the ARC Music label, this recording brims over with guitar, oud, violin, viola, cello and contrabass wrapping the mysteries of Hanukkah by way of tracks like “Maoz Tzur,” “Khanike, Oi, Khanike,” “Kita’l Tas,” “Akht Kleyne Brider” and “L’Chvod Chanukah.” This recording is a real treat.
As a sequel to theirWintersongs, the glorious voices of Kitka vocally travel from Bulgaria on “Collage of Koleda Carols” to Russia for “Zapovedi blazenstv/The Beatitudes” to Latvia for “Kur bijati ziemassvetki” to Ukraine for “Sco v pana khazjajna.” Taking listeners on a musical journey through Balkan, Slavic and Caucasian regions, Evening Star is holiday celebration, our earthy ancestors calling and a meditation all in one.
Throughout September and October, the Spanish-speaking nations and Hispanic residents in the United States celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) in the United States. Other countries celebrate the Dia de la Hispanidad (Hispanic Heritage Day).
During the monthlong Hispanic Heritage Month celebration, the United States honors the culture and traditions of U.S. residents who trace their roots to Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. World Music Central has put together a list of recent recordings that showcase the diversity of Hispanic music.
Old-School Revolution is an irresistible album by the Hip Spanic Allstars, a new supergroup that brings together members of iconic bands Santana, Tower of Power, Spearhead, and Los Mocosos.
The multinational band celebrates and updates the exciting music made in the 1970s where Spanish Caribbean salsa and Latin jazz met rock and African American soul and funk.
One of the most exciting artists out of Cuba is Eme Alfonso, a talented artist that grew up in a family of groundbreaking musicians, Grupo Sintesis. Her album discography includes Eme (Colibrí) and Voy. Eme has been releasing a series of mesmerizing videos with her latest songs, including:
Cuba is also a land of extraordinary pianists. This is year there has been a wave of albums by some of Cuba’s finest, who combine jazz and Cuban roots music: Alfredo Rodríguez – The Little Dream (Mack Avenue MAC1130, 2018), Dayramir González – The Grand Concourse (Machat Records, 2018), and Un Día Cualquiera by Harold López-Nussa (Mack Avenue).
Cuban pianist and composer Omar Sosa has a new album with fellow Cuban vocalist and violinist Yilian Cañizares titled Aguas, scheduled for release on OTA Records on October 5, 2018. Afro-Cuban roots meet Western classical music, and jazz.
The legendary Cuban guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Eliades Ochoa (of Buena Vista Social Club fame) has released a delightful instrumental album with Cuban guitarist Alejandro Almenares – Dos Gigantes de Música Cubana (Tumi Music, 2018).
One of the iconic Cuban albums of the 1990s, A toda Cuba le gusta (World Circuit) by Afro-Cuban All Stars has been remastered and reissued on vinyl.
Canada-based Cuban musicians Okan (Elizabeth Rodriguez and Magdelys Savigne) have a debut EP titled Laberinto, scheduled for release October 19, 2018. Okan mixes fusion jazz, traditional Cuban music, Mexican influences and jazz swing.
With 127 million residents, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country. The Mexican diaspora has brought mariachi music, norteño and son jarocho to the United States. Mariachi Herencia de México, formed by students from Chicago’s Mexican-American neighborhoods has a new album titled Herencia de la Tierra Mía (Heritage of My Land).
The charming self-released album features iconic Mexican American world music artist Lila Downs, Mexican mariachi star Aida Cuevas and Mexican harp virtuoso Ivan Velasco Herencia de la Tierra Mía includes sones, passionate boleros and a delightful jarocho medley. It was produced by acclaimed Spanish producer Javier Limón, director of the Mediterranean Music Institute at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Mexican vocalist Magos Herrera (currently based in New York) celebrates Ibero-American (the music of Spanish and Portuguese countries) culture on her new album Dreamers (Sony Music Masterworks). Magos Herrera collaborates with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. This is not a chamber jazz album, but rather a cross-genre recording where Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider invited guest percussionists on flamenco and global percussion, and flamenco star Miguel Poveda.
Magos Hererera performs songs with lyrics by renowned songwriters and poets and writers, including Octavio Paz, Rubén Darío, and Federico García Lorca. It’s a fascinating production with exquisite arrangements.
Son jarocho, with its captivating guitars and poetic lyrics combines the basic roots of Veracruz’s Mexican musical culture: Spanish guitars and poetry, indigenous rhythms and Afro-Caribbean influence. New York-based Radio Jarocho and acclaimed Veracruz musician Zenen Zeferino have released Rios de Norte y Sur.
A different take on son jarocho is the remarkable Fingertip Carnival, a collaboration between Chinese pipa (lute) maestra Wu Man and son jarocho ensemble Son de San Diego.
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings has released the self-titled album Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles. This groundbreaking all-female ensemble has served as a role model for Hispanic women in music. This is classic spirited mariachi at its best. The album includes a 44-page booklet with notes in English and Spanish.
The highly romantic boleros are very popular across the Spanish-speaking nations. A form of rootsy guitar-based bolero has developed in Mexico’s Costa Chica region bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Gary Nuñez & Plena Libre have been touring extensively with their explosive mix of Puerto Rican plen and bomba, salsa and jazz. Amores en el Camino (Love’s Journey) is their 2018 album. The album was originally scheduled for release in 2017, but it was moved to February 2018 due to Hurricane Maria and the subsequent disaster in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rican saxophonist and composer Miguel Zenón has released Yo soy la Tradición, his eleventh album. Yo soy la Tradición was commissioned by the David and Reva Logan Center for the Arts and the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. It is a set of 8 chamber compositions for alto saxophone and string quartet that include Zenón and the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet.
Puerto Rican-Peruvian act Zemog El Gallo Bueno (Abraham Gómez-Delgado) has combined three of his releases on YoYouMeTú Volume 3. Zemog El Gallo Bueno makes an eclectic cocktail of sounds that includes cha cha ch, salsa, guaracha, rock, funk and electronics. The album will be available November 9, 2018.
Peruvian band Dengue Dengue Dengue has a new mini-LP titled Semillero released September 2018 by On The Corner Records. The 6-track recording includes a mix of electronic music with Afro-Peruvian coastal rhythms and healing chants from the Huni Kuin people of the Amazon River.
Galicia in northwestern Spain is a land of pipers, traditionally male. The trailblazing Susana Seivane is one of the finest bagpipe players of her generation. She has just released her fifth album titled Fa.
Also from Galicia is the grand folk orchestra called SondeSeu, an orchestra featuring folk music instruments such as zanfonas (hurdy gurdies), bagpipes, flutes, drums, fiddles and vocalists. The new album Beiralua features special guests on vocals and bagpipes.
Galician experimentalist and multi-instrumentalist Mercedes Peón reconstructs tradition with a mix of electronics, rock, traditional acoustic instruments, sampled sounds, and fascinating vocal experimentation on her new album titled Deixaas.
Argentine pianist Juan Carlos Cambas has been living in Galicia since 2002. He has released “Almas en el viento / Música Argentina de raíz“. Juan Carlos Csambos has been exploring the music of countries where large numbers of Galicians emigrated to: Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela, Brazil and Uruguay.
Argentine tango and Portuguese fado come together on Tango Fado Duo (Sorel Classics). The album features Portuguese guitar virtuoso, Pedro H. da Silva and bandoneon maestro Daniel Binelli. Together, they delve into two of the most passionate musical genres in the Hispanic and Lusophone world.
American keyboardist Stu Mindeman collaborates with Chilean musicians on the exquisite Woven Threads, mixing jazz, Chilean music and global rhythms.
Folk music band Aljibe, from Central Spain, explores the music of the Rio Tajo (Tagus River) basin on Agua. The band presents reconstructed traditional music from Castile and other regions. The CD is housed in a beautifully-packaged hard cover 144-page book with vintage photos and lots of details about the songs selected.
Chano Dominguez started as a progressive rock keyboardist with Andalusian rock band Cai and has become one of the leading flamenco jazz pianists. His most recent album is a collaboration with Spanish jazz bassist Javier Colina: Chano & Colina (Sunnyside, 2018)
Colombian singer-songwriter Marta Gómez released La alegría y el canto (Aluna Music), an album featuring well-known musicians from South America, Cuba and Spain.
Brazilian music is the focus of Colombian singer-songwriter Chabuco’s 2018 album Encuentro. It’s a nicely-crafted encounter between the tropical music of Colombia and Brazilian music, featuring Brazilian musicians.
One of the hottest musical styles in New York’s Hispanic community was bugalú (boogaloo), a hybridization of Latin Caribbean music and African American influences. New York City-based band Spanglish Fly has renovated boogaloo and released Ay Que Boogaloo! (Chaco World Music) earlier this year. This time Spanglish Fly ventured beyond boogaloo, adding bolero, New Orleans funk, swing jazz, Arabic chants, and other innovations.
Los Texmaniacs plays the border music of Tejas (Texas), Tejano music. Their latest album Cruzando Borders (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2018) brings together Spanish, Mexican and American country music roots. Guest includes Lyle Lovett and country singer Rick Treviño.
Orquesta Akokán – Featuring José “Pepito” Gómez (Daptone Records) is an encounter between a big band collective of Havana’s finest musicians and musicians from New York’s Latin music scene with mouthwatering mambo as the common language.
Various string instrument masters appeared live at a festival in the Czech Republic and recorded Strunk Nad Oslavou – Strings over the Oslava River 2016 (Indies Scope, 2017). The lineup included Germán López, one of the finest timple (a small Spanish guitar from the Canary Islands) players in the Canary Islands, Spain; along with Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione; Senegalese kora master Seckou Keita; and Czech mandolin virtuoso Martin Krajíček.
Makrú, a band from the Mission District in San Francisco combines skillfully Colombian and Caribbean music, flamenco, rock, Middle Eastern flavors and much more on – Tu Mission (Makru Music, 2018)
Canadian flute virtuoso Ron Korb celebrates the music of Latin America and Spain on World Café, featuring Cuban and Canadian musicians with a mix of melodic jazz, tango, rumba flamenco and other influences.
Paraguayan harp player Carlos Reyes collaborates with Brazilian guitarist and vocalist Badi Assad and American blues guitarist on Blues & Latin, a combination of blues, smooth jazz and South American sounds.
Los Romeros: Royal Family of the Spanish Guitar by Walter Aaron Clark (University of Illinois Press, 2018) is an depth look at the leading Spanish guitar family in the United States, the Romeros. The family tradition was started by Spaniard Celedonio Romero who emigrated to the United States in the 1950s.
Millenia before the invention of the screw, he screwed his perceptions down, tightening and focusing all the sensory pressure he could bring to bear on the essentials of the moment. His eyes locked onto the pig, willing the arrow to go to that one spot behind the animal’s shoulder. Nerve endings were shut off except in his fingertips, which retained the feeling of the string just released, and its tension, through which he knew the strength of the arrow shot he had just released, its range, drop and penetrating power.
He smelled and tasted the creekside forest in which he hunted, its humidity reflecting both effect on his bow and arrows and the weather he’d face bringing his kill back to the clan and its lush growth of plants on which the animal fed creating anticipation of rich, fatty meat. His ear, cocked toward the game and hoping to hear the thwunk of his arrow, had brief leisure to enjoy the melodic, decaying vibration of his bowstring, settling back into rest after propelling his arrow.
She, too, was narrowing and aiming all her senses at that moment. Her eyes searched for the best shade of gray green and the best height for picking mallow stalks among the various creekside reeds and weeds, and they abetted her bare soles, on which she concentrated to judge a firmness of mud that allowed for easy plucking of plants and decent footing.
Pulling a mallow up from the muck slowly, to keep roots attached, she cracked the stalk, smelled the break, then licked it to test its quality as an herbal medicine. As she did so, a rising breeze blew across unevenly snapped reeds she’d used to pull herself forward through the mud, and she heard a combination of discordant notes.
He, another he, pulled a crude coracle onto a sandbar. Surveying his possessions and the little world in which he would overnight, he saw the round vessel, skins stretched over a wooden frame and covered with fat, the extra fat and provisions wrapped in other skins and animal bladders, a large hide used as a blanket, his paddles and stone tools, sand, mud, driftwood branches, sticks, and stumps.
Like the aforementioned woman, he judged the earth with his feet to find the driest spot on which to sleep. Arranging his property, he smelled the meat and berries on which he would dine for freshness, then dropped his paddle against the upended skin boat to hear good tautness to test the craft’s soundness for the next day’s journey.
The pig’s scream, the deep beat of the paddle against the skin boat and the reeds’ haunting wail coincided, more or less, up and down the creek, making them aware of one another. The hunter’s success being the loudest and most dramatic sound, and he being the middle of the three, he became the center of attention for all. As he finished his kill, he looked around and prepared to defend it, at need, from the strangers he knew were nearby. They warily approached, the boatman wading near the shore and the medicine woman approaching warily down the opposite creek bank.
Out of bowshot, they sized one another up in relative safety. There were no tribal differences then, nothing greater than fighting over food, and since the pig was more meat than the lone hunter could possibly carry back to his own clan, that was not an issue. In innocence and pragmatism, they accepted without any barter, threat, or palaver that they would eat and camp together that night.
Only the boatman had anything like a camp. The sandbar was fairly dry, open enough to let the breeze blow insects away and possessed of old, easily ignited wood for a fire. They could make fire.
Using simple syllables and gestures, they agreed to gut the pig together and push the carcass into the creek, then wade together, allowing the current to wash the creature’s blood away, taking it to the sandbar, where further butchering and then a roasted meal could take place.
Once there, they displayed their resources to one another in dusk light, gradually replaced by firelight. Both men had striking stones for making fire. The woman had a collection of gathered herbs, both medicinal and culinary, as well as salt, as well as the snapped, hollow reeds she had snatched up out of curiosity when the three had accidentally announced their presence to one another. The boatman had an assortment of shells and brightly colored stones, some strung on leather cords as necklaces.
The coracle was a marvelous, magical thing to the other two, who walked around it, rubbed their hands across its surface and, with permission, hit it tentatively with the boatman’s paddle. All tested the hunter’s bow, after he bragged on its potency, and enjoyed testing the string by plucking. The men tried to imitate the sound they’d heard from the woman’s starting position and pointed at her with hands outstretched at waist level, palms up, to ask her what had caused it. She held up her handful of uneven, hollow reeds and passed her hand over it in the sign for wind, but her explanation was unclear, and so she blew across them, and another near-melodic noise came forth.
The trio’s conversation was necessarily limited by paucity of vocabulary and mutually understood gesture, but they could and did seek for explanation of the world around them, the little world of the fire-lit sandbar, with the tools available to them. They took turns plucking the bow, beating the coracle and blowing the reeds.
They experimented and learned that the bowstring, pressed with a stiff finger or pig bone at different places along its length, yielded different sounds from the plucked portion beneath the blocking device. They noticed that the reeds could be rearranged into different combinations of exposed lengths and that blowing over them in those different combinations produced higher or lower sounds. The coracle, beaten mainly by the boatman, it being his property and greatest treasure and he living by the rhythm of his paddling day in and day out, was incorporated for rhythm.
Percussionists tend to believe that the first manufactured instrument was a drum. String players are confident theirs was the first tool of music. Wind instrumentalists are certain reeds and wind were our earliest cultural inspiration. Perhaps, after all, it was a band.
There are not so many ethnic [folk or world music] festivals in Russia. Most of those I wrote about a year ago do not exist or will be held every two years, like the Taibola Festival and White Noise, skipping 2018. Also, many have not yet published their promo with the line-up announcement 2018, but it doesn’t prevent people from planning their trips and buying tickets in advance.
27 – 29 of July, Perm region
Kamwa festival celebrates 13 years old this year, and this was the first ethno festival I attended in my life 13 years ago. I always compare other festivals I go to with Kamwa. The festival is held in an unrealistically picturesque place – in the museum of wooden architecture of Khokhlovka, a few kilometers from Perm. All Russian ethno-musicians and many foreign ones performed here, for example, Trad.Attack!, Oratnitza, Vedan Kolod, Merema, Sattuma, Namgar, Volga, Kila, Authentic Light Orchestra and many-many others.
9 – 11 of June, Tula region
The biggest multi-genre festival of Russia. This year more than 70 bands from around the world will perform within 3 days on Wild Mint: Mgzavrebi, Mujuice, OLIGARKH, Aveva, but not so many folk bands as before.
Folk Summer Fest
20 – 22 of July, Kaluga region
Saltatio Mortis, The Rumjacks, Russkaja, Heidevolk, Kalevala, Spire, Teufelstans, Nytt Land, Gilead, Midvinterblot, and more than 50 other bands from all over the world mostly playing pagan metal or Viking folk.
Nebo I Zemlya
8 – 12 of June, Tyumen
There you’ll be able to participate at 700 master classes, to listen to over 200 invited speakers with lectures on health, relationships, needlework, business, cultures from all over the world, 400 events for children, 50 concerts Russian and foreign artists; Holi holiday, fire shows and many other things.
1 – 5 of August, Nizhni Novgorod
WAFEst – this is Water-Air-Fire-Earth-festival! This is not a purely musical festival – there are fire shows, master classes, the quality and quantity (more than 400!) are unprecedented, so you can call it educational too.
13 – 15 of July, Shushenskoe
Since 2003, Shushenskoye has become a place of unprecedented musical, ethnic, cultural leisure for thousands and thousands of guests, whose number and geography increases every year. The first name of this festival was Sayan Ring, later changed into Mir Sibiri, now the biggest ethno festival in Russia.
19 – 22 of July, Altai
International EcoCultural festival WhatEtno it is three-day event, consisting educational and cognitive meetings dedicated to world music, festival also organizes tours for musicians in Siberia.
18 – 22 of July, Republic Tuva
XIX International Festival of Live Music and Faith “Ustuu-Huree -2018” will be held in Chadan of the Republic of Tuva from 18 to 22 July. Festival was established in 1999, during the realization of the idea of restoring the ruins of the once magnificent Buddhist temple Ustuu-Huree.
24 – 26 of August, Bashkortostan
This is the chance also to visit one of the biggest (and almost endless) lakes in Bashkortostan, the lake Aslykul. There is no entrance fee, the festival made by volunteers and enthusiasts. Tribal mood and a lot of beautiful fire shows with live folk and electronic music.
Solar Systo Togathering 2018
17 – 21 of May, Saint-Petersburg
Quite small and private festival that annually changes its location. This year, the “ecological meeting” Solar Systo Togathering took place on the picturesque shore of the Finnish Gulf, 120 kilometers from St. Petersburg towards Primorsk. This year’s headline includes Ikarushka, Testo, Noid and many other folk-electronic projects.
Voice of nomads
20 – 21 of July, Buryatia Republic
International Music Festival near Baikal lake. Invites local stars like Namgar as well as International world music stars like Casuarina from Brazil, the bands from Mongolia, China, Ukraine, Hungary, Norway, USA, Japan, Belgium, Brazil, Zimbabwe, France come there regularly.
St. Patrick’s Day. How exactly did the Catholic patron saint feast day of the the people of Ireland, a relatively small island in the North Atlantic, evolve into a worldwide celebration? With festivities and parades in communities large and small that traverse from United States to Australia from Germany to Argentina from Japan to South Africa, the logical answer of course is the ability of the Irish to pick up and move to wherever the road takes them with all the mitigating factors of migration mixed in like famine, disease and oppression. By why this extravaganza of green? Some might point to mass marketing with promises of barrels of beer, a good time party and a lively parade in those dark days that mark the lull between Christmas and the genuine start of spring. The spread of St. Patrick’s Day by way of the cross pollination of culture seem so reasonable, so rational, so plausible.
But the Irish in me wants it to be us. The Irish in me wants it to be our storytelling, our music, our dance. Yes, the Irish in me wants it to be the utter surety that “if you knew us, you’d like us,” which I’m not sure if it makes us charmingly likable or just a wee bit obnoxious. Those not quite spring days of March seem a good time for us heathens in the Northern Hemisphere to settle in with a pint against the backdrop of a sweet tune and listen to someone’s Da tell a story that couldn’t possibly be true, but then again it just might. See, I have no doubt that there’s a Irishman out there, right now, that’s looking at a lovely woman and saying, “Ah, Mo stoirín, you remind me of a girl …” before weaving a fantastical tale. Perhaps that’s the real lure of St. Patrick’s Day.
To lure you in further let’s find some music for your St. Patrick’s Day and there is indeed some fine music this year to tempt you.
There’s the standard St. Patrick’s Day fare of Celtic Thunder’s Celtic Thunder X with tracks like “Sons of Light,” “Toora Loora Lay” and “The Wild Rover.” While a little overblown and a bit more commercial pop than I personally prefer, their version of “Lannigans Ball” is lively.
The late 2017 releases of Voice of the Celts and The Voice Within by Dulaman follow along the same vein, but “Dulaman,” “On Raglan Road,” “Sally Brown,” “The Sally Gardens” and Na Ceannabhain Bhana” are worth a listen. Also, Celtic Woman has put out Homecoming – Live From Ireland for Susan McFadden, Mairead Carlin, Eabha McMahon and Tara McNeil fans.
The Gap of Dreams by Altan is certain to set your Celtic heart all aflutter. The stunning bright and beautiful recording is full of the goodness of Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh’s vocals and fiddle, Ciaran Curran’s bouzouki, Daithi Sproule’s guitar and vocals, Mark Kelly’s guitar and vocals and Martin Tourish’s piano accordion. They threw in Tommy McLaughlin on keyboards just for kicks. On The Gap of Dreams fans get a dose of “The Gap of Dreams/Nia’s Jig/The Beekeeper,” “The Month of January,” “Nion a’ Bhaoigheallaigh” and “The Tullaghan Lasses/The Cameronian/The Pigeon on the Gate,” as well as “Cumha an Oileain” and the sweetly simple Mark Kelly composition “Port Alex.”
Equally delicious is the third offering Stri by Gaelic singer Maeve Mackinnon. Fans will want to check out this for tracks like “Iomaraibh Eutrom,” “Roisin Dubh,” “Dh’fhalbh Mo Run air an Aiseig” and “O Mo Cheist am Fear Ban.”
Fiddle fans will want to check out From Within by fiddler Eric Ryan-Johnson. This artist self release is packed with goodies like “Jigs: The Beginning/A Boy & His Dad/The Yelping Dog,” “Air: The Farmer of Florence,” “Reel: The Morning Cup,” “Air: February 23” and “Reels: The End Is Near/ Bound to Break.” And if that wasn’t enough sweet Celtic fiddle goodness for you, he’s also got The Wonderful Day on tap with treats like “Hornpipes: The Wonderful Day/The Bee’s Wings,” “Jigs: Knights of St. Patrick/Hast to the Wedding/Father O’Flynn’s,” “Air: Melody for Meredith Keefe,” “Reels: Bag of Potatoes/Blacksmith’s Reel/Castle Kelly” and “Reel: Coffin Ships.”
There’s Celtic Crumble’s Echos of Ireland with tracks like “Carry Me Home,” “The Rocky Road to Dublin,” “The Twins of Ballina” and title track “Echos of Ireland” to tempt fans.
Perhaps, a mixed bag of tricks will tickle your fancy. Well, then you might want to try out ARC music’s Discover Celtic Music. There are some real treats here with Aryeh Frankfurter’s “The Morning Dew,” Golden Bough’s “The Wren Boys/Gavin’s Hornpipe/Honeysuckle,” Noel Mclourghlin’s “The Hills of Connemara” and Mary Ann Kennedy’s “Air Leathad Sleibhe.” There’s also Gwyneth Glyn’s “Cwlwm,” Yvon Etienne’s “Si j’ai le courage,” Os Rosales’s “Muineira a Gatuxa” and Sian James’s “Mwynen merch.” Good stuff.
Pure Records has released Avenging and Bright by Damien O’Kane. Don’t let the goofy cover photo of Mr. O’Kane scare you off because this Northern Ireland singer and musician goes down silky smooth like the perfect pint on offerings like “Boston City,” title track “Avenging and Bright,” “All Among the Barley,” January Man,” and “Dancing in Puddles.” Mr. O’Kane’s vocal against piano, guitar and tenor guitar makes for some fine contemporary fare.
Perhaps one of my favorites has to be the Danny Diamond’s Elbow Room. This fiddler extraordinaire has played previously with Slow Moving Clouds and Morga, but on Elbow Room Mr. Diamond wows listeners simply by the shape and breadth of his own solo fiddler’s soul. Whether you’re a newbie listener or a seasoned Irish fiddle devotee, it’s easy to fall under the spell Mr. Diamond weaves on tracks like “Maureen from Gibberland,” “The Pinch of Snuff,” “Watching the Evening Grow,” “The Blackbird” and “Johnny Cope.” This is truly a fiddler’s delight.
The String Sisters have out Between Wind and Water. Irish vocalist and fiddler Mairead Ne Mhaonaigh, Norwegian Hardanger fiddler Annbjorg Lien, the American fiddler Liz Knowles, Shetland fiddler Catriona MacDonald, the American fiddler Liz Carroll and Swedish fiddler and vocalist Emma Hardelin have turned out some fine tunes on Between Wind and Water with jaunty tracks like “The Crow’s Visit,” “Hjaltland” and “Late Night in Forde.” Fans get morsels of sweetness like “Wind and Rain,” “Det bor I mina tankar” and “Mo Nion O.”
Another stunning fiddle recording is An Choill Uaigneach by Theresa Kavanagh. Hailing from Donegal, Ms. Kavanagh dazzles listener with the bright wildness of the fiddle on such tracks as “The Wild Swans of Coole/The Abandoned Meadow,” “Jocelyn’s/Grainne’s Jig” and “The Sword of Light/Secrets of the Willow,” and title track “An Choill Uaigneach” or “The Lonesome Forest” is elegant.
For Celtic fans looking for a little something off the beaten path might want to check out Plantec’s Live at the Festival Interceltique Lorient. These Breton Celtic rockers dole out a ferocious performance on this recording. Full of Breton bombard, guitar and synthesizer and programming, this is a definitive kick in the pants to any sweet version of “Danny Boy.” Recorded at the 2017 Lorient Inter Celtique Festival, Plantec’s Odran and Yannick Plantec and Gabriel Djibril kick some Celtic rock ass with tracks like “Croissant de letiez,” “Speedwell,” “Koun” and “Feulz.”
Another off the beaten path choice might be Celtic Rock Opera series recording “Excalibur IV The Dark Age of the Dragon” with music, lyrics and concept by Alan Simon. If you need a backing soundtrack for your noble quest down the highway or to the grocery store, well, here’s your music. Recorded with the Bohemian Symphony Orchestra Prague, this recording rocks out with electric guitars, drums and keyboards, as well as mandolins, Celtic harps and big bold vocals. It features Moya Brennan (Clannad), John Helliwell (Supertramp), Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), Michael Sadler (Saga),and Bernie Shaw (Uriah Heep).
Brona McVittie’s We Are the Wildlife is a lovely contemporary Celtic folk collection. Her sweet vocals on “Where the Angels Wake You,” “The Flower of Magherally“ and “Molly Brannigan” are intimate and mesmerizing. Add in Myles Cochran on “The Vast and Vague Extravagance That Lies at the Bottom of the Celtic Heart” and you definitely have a winner.
If atmospheric and ethereal is what you are looking for you might want to check out the Irish harpist Aine Minogue’s In the Name of Stillness Celtic Meditation Music. Ms. Minogue set us a serene loveliness from opening track “In the Name of Stillness” and through tracks like “Home of Belonging,” “In the Name of Solitude” and “Quiet Absence.”
Mary Ann Kennedy has An Dan: Gaelic Songs for a Modern World out on the ARC label. The Scottish singer has tracks like “Seinn, Horo, Seinn,” “Sith na Coille,” “Iain Againn Fhin” and “Air Leathad Sleibhe” on tap for listeners.
If Ulileann pipes, bouzouki, bodran, fiddle, flute and cello are on your wish list for the season, then you might want to take a listen to John McSherry’s The Seven Suns. A 2016 release that some how passed us by is bold and infectiously delightful. With tracks like “Dance of the Siog,” “The Atlantean,” “Sunrise at Bealtaine,” “The Golden Mean” and “The Cloghogle,” Mr. McSherry, along with fellow musicians Sean Og Graham, Niamh Dunne, Michael McGoldrick and Sean Warren, will have you and yours feting until the wee hours.
Another 2016 out on the Compass Records label that somehow also passed us by that is well worth a listen is Doolin‘ by the band of the same name. Doolin’ is a fine time and rollicking good fun with tracks like “Mary’s Jigs,” “Sailing Across the Ocean,” “The Road to Gleanntan,” “Wind Her Up” and “The Galway Girl.”
There’s also The Irishman’s Finest Collection by John Duhan. Starting out his career at the age of 15 as the front man for Limrick’s 1960s rock group Granny Intentions, Mr. Duhan would later turn to his own writing and solo recordings like The Voyage, Just Another Town and To the Light, as well as having some of his songs recording by heavyweights such as Christy Moore, The Dubliners and Mary Black. On The Irishman’s Finest Collection, Mr. Duhan lays bare the Irish soul by way of tracks like “Just Another Town,” “The Voyage,” “All I Need” and “The River Returning.”
Should musicians like Irla O Lionaird, Caoimhin O Raghallaigh, Dennis Cahill, Martin Hayes and Thomas Bartlett mean anything to you then you should drop whatever bit of nonsense you are doing and run around in a circle of delight. A bit of girlish screaming and arm waving wouldn’t go amiss either. If you hadn’t guessed these five musicians have out on the Real World label The Gloaming Live at the NCH . And let me say this recording is lovely, lovely and even more lovely. Be prepared to be entranced by the opening fiddle lines of “The Booley House,” through the sweet charms of Iarla O Lionaird’s vocals on “Cucanandy” and “The Sailor’s Bonnet” to the very Celtic magic of “The Pilgrim’s Song” and “The Rolling Wave” and all the way to the very end of “Fainleog.” You want this CD. You need it. Your very connection to all that expresses the sweetly joyful sorrowful Celtic soul depends on it.
Recorded at Dublin, Ireland’s National Concert Hall, The Gloaming Live at NCH is breathtakingly good, so good it’s hard not to feel a little giddy over this elegant work of voice, piano, Hardanger d’Amore, guitar and fiddle. You don’t even need to think about, just get it.
Finally, let me say that in regards to St. Patrick’s Day that I’m glad to know that we Irish aren’t hoarders of the holiday. There’s enough Irish to go around. That frothy pint doesn’t care a whit if you are saint or sinner. The fiddle tune doesn’t care if your are ferocious or feckless. You could be fool or faerie folk and you would still be welcome for what the Irish call comhaltacht – fellowship. So, settle in and listen to some good music and maybe somebody’s Da will tell you a story.
Noteworthy: APAP has changed the organization’s name to the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, while retaining the familiar acronym. From 1988 until this most recent name change in APAP’s 60-plus year history, it was known as the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. “Our name has changed once again to reflect no only growth, but also the range of experience and expression in our field, noted Mario Garcia Durham, president and CEO of APAP. “The new name more perfectly describes the full range of distinctive roles professionals play, from the creation to the presentation and dissemination of the performing arts.”
APAP jumpstarts the new year for the performing arts industry every January in New York City. The conference charges the city with dynamic energies through the presence of tens of thousands of arts leaders, artists, and enthusiasts from the U.S. and many countries who convene each year at this momentous event. This year’s APAP 61st annual member conference, APAP|NYC, January 12th – 16th, was filled with special moments and milestone markers especially for the world music community.
Thought-provoking plenaries, the vital pre-conference world music event, Wavelengths, and the two great showcase festivals, Winter Jazzfest and Globalfest held abundant promise that the coming year will be standout. Sheer quality in those APAP-incubated events bolstered the conference’s long-standing advocacy for cultural diversities and inclusiveness as key to well-being, growth, creativity, and peace, locally and globally.
This, despite the roiled politics in Washington infesting the news today, the harrowing violence in the country – against people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and women. Ignorance, bigotry, and hatred must be fought in the arts more than ever. For it is through the arts that human values survive and flourish.
To be sure and lest we forget, Mario Garcia Durham remarked with heartening perspective as he introduced the conference theme:
In the short span of a year, so much has happened. As the media and our human nature often focus on the tragic and negative, I urge you to remember much good takes place around you every day and much of it happens in the APAP community and at our conference.
The theme for APAP|NYC 2018 is trans.ACT, which evokes a wealth of meaning which we will explore throughout the conference. We will explore transformations taking place in our communities and society at large and our role engaging and leading the dialogue. We will explore the increasingly transdisciplinary (and transcendent) nature of the performing arts. We are consciously creating space for transgender artists and other transgender professionals in our field. We will gain an understanding for how the arts can be a place for ACTivism and a force for good in these polarized and divisive times.
Plenary Power: Roberta Uno and Bassem Youssef
To underscore the theme, the opening and closing plenaries topped conference presentations. Robert Uno, director of Arts in a Changing America, as opening keynote speaker, brilliantly addressed the subject “What is the Role and Responsibility of the Performing Arts in Our World Today?”
Ms. Uno drew upon her personal narrative, the story of her Asian-American family’s cruel internment during World War II, in parallel contrast to the continuing challenges of lack of diversity in American institutions and particularly, the arts today. Her grandfather as an artist, was considered ‘dangerous.’ It is said that he was possibly the longest held internee during the war, despite having urged his 3 sons to join the U.S. military and defend the country.
She noted that according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s projection by 2042, people of color will eclipse white majority here. The vision of a pluralistic America is possible, she maintained. Early actions including the Civil Rights Era and the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act brought progress and promise.
However, there are hard realities and issues to be addressed.
While our nation is changing, our institutions are lagging far behind. We all know that the majority of arts funding still goes to large budget institutions, which are predominantly Caucasian led and serving, while less than 10% goes to diverse institutions. This is not just a problem in the arts but across institutions.
Ms. Uno screened a New York Times 2016 infographic showing the results of a racial profile survey of 503 powerful leaders and decision makers in American business, culture, and government. Entitled “The Faces of American Power, Nearly as White as the Oscar Nominees” – www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/02/26/us/race-of-american-power.html – the statistical imagery in 2016 showed only 44 individuals of color. Very little has changed in those numbers over the past two years in the general demographics.
Yet she pointed out that population demographics are rapidly changing with grass roots advocacy. “From the ground up, diverse cultural organizations are anchoring communities in very innovative ways.” She screened a 1970 photo of a Russian Orthodox church in Flushing, Queens. Today on the same street we can visit the largest Ganesha Hindu temple in North America. It sponsors an annual festival attended by thousands, and holds a school, an educational center, a restaurant, and the only state-of-the-art performing arts theater in the heavily populated area. It is open to the general public. What is most impressive, she said, “is that all the capital development and programming have been sustained by the 22,000 members.” They don’t benefit from the usual grants and ticketing model.
“What do we have to do to remap ourselves?” she asked. She brought up the necessity of re-thinking our language: the outmoded reference usage such as ‘minority’, the oxymoronic ‘majority-minority’… the inaccuracy of ‘underrepresented’ or ‘mainstream.’
What happens when ‘mainstream’ is just one of many rivers? How do we acknowledge that there are parallel universes that are existing as a result of the de facto segregation that has occured? And the ways that cities are re-gentrifying and resegregating? And how can we subvert the narrative of scarcity and competition? Can we operate from values of a shared future?
“We are living in a volatile, terrifying, and I actually think one of the most exciting times – because it’s one of those times when we matter. When my family was sent to internment camps, my mother said, “Not that many people said anything about it…. So, this is a chance for us to connect in ways we have never imagined.”
It’s an urgent time for analysis, reflection, planning, and action with purpose. For voices of activism to be heard.
Bassem Youssef, the Egyptian political satirist, commentator, and physician, and in exile in America, closed the conference. His story of survival from government harassment and censorship was a moving defense of satire, humor, sarcasm and art as effective means to challenge and check oppressors and dictators. Here are excerpts from his talk.
History teaches us that painters, actors, singers comedians, poets, writers have all been the targets of oppressors. It is not just satire, it is the mere act of liberating your mind through art, performance and creativity that really pisses them off. A creative mind is a liberated mind, and a liberated mind is the oppressor’s biggest enemy. It is imaginative, it is unpredictable, and it is a problem…. Art in its free, liberated form is uncomfortable, destructive and unpredictable. These are all qualities that authorities don’t like. These are traits that oppressors will fight.These are dangers that dictators will always seek to destroy.
I come from a region in the world that is going through a very tough time right now. Many would look at this region and think of giving up. Many think the Arab Spring was a disaster. But if you look beyond the destruction and disappointment, you can see a silver lining. You can see millions of young people practicing something that their parents were deprived of. Questioning. They question everything now, the military, religion, and even society’s norms and traditions, and they do that through celebrating their creativity, their innovation, and through their own discovery of art, humor, and love for performance. Questioning is the prequel of a revolution.
So maybe we haven’t seen the end of it yet, maybe we’re just warming up. So I invite you all to live in discomfort, to make art that is annoying, destructive and unconventional. Celebrate art, humor and love of performance, and know that if you are making certain people angry, furious and uncomfortable, then probably you are doing something right.
The Wavelengths annual pre-conference sessions, January 10 and 11, is a must-attend for all interested in the world music industry. Its importance cannot be underestimated. Rock Paper Scissors, leading world music publicity firm, under the deft leadership of Dmitri Vietze, CEO, co-presents with globalFEST the largest North American “mini-conference” for world music professionals. The variety of topics is a mix of inspiration and practicality along with brief cameo pitches by artists eager for recognition.
Keynotes speakers this year were Emel Mathlouthi, the artist, and Michael Orlove, the NEA’s director of Artist Communities and Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works for the National Endowment for the Arts. Michael Orlove gave his speech time to Dessa Darling who spoke about the brain and music.
Timely topics included:
Maximizing Your Social Impact (with Ani Cordero, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, Natalia Linares, Kim Chan, Xiomara Henry; moderated by Tanya Selvaratnam)
Part I – Money Talks: Understanding Contracts, Rights, and Business Taxes for Artists Working Globally (with Jon Bahr / VP, Publishing at CD Baby, Bob Donnelly music lawyer, and tax adviser Dunia Best Sinnreich; moderated by Tristra Newyear Yeager)
Part II – Money Talks: Touring and Live Events (with artist Ravish Momin, tour manager Theresa Teague, artist manager Cynthia Karaha; moderated by Juan Souki); Culturally Appropriate
Navigating Allyship vs. Appropriation, an Open Round Table (with Clay Ross, Falu Shah, José Corbelo, Melody Capote)
Around the world: Global News, Markets and Ideas (Olivier Conan, Ishmael Sayyad, Elodie Da Silva, Mickey Davis, and Hyo Han; moderated by Sam Lee)
You can find video tapes of the entire sessions here. Well-worth reviewing, there is a wealth of invaluable information for newcomers as well as seasoned pros: www.facebook.com/globalFEST/videos/
globalFEST enlarges the cosmopolitan nature and scope of the presenting arts by its flagship one-night showcase festival. The conference was a banner moment for the co-founding producers, Bill Bragin, Isabel Soffer, and Shanta Thake. APAP awarded the global music platform trio with the prestigious William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement. This is fine validation for 15 years of dedicated work.
In addition, the organization has created its self-titled first annual globalFEST Awards “for artists and members of the field who have been instrumental in making significant, longstanding contributions to the performing arts landscape in the USA through risk taking, addressing cultural diversity and diplomacy, cultural activism, helping to keep, transmit and extend the world’s ancient traditions, commitment to working with local communities and making a difference to the greater American performing arts landscape as well as other areas.”
The 2018 award recipients are:
Impact Award Honoree: Michael Orlove A beloved figure in the world music community, Mike has had a huge impact on the field. A native of Chicago, Orlove spent 19 years as senior program director for the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs. His tenure with the department led to nearly two decades of innovation, creativity, and passion for public service with the City of Chicago transforming the Chicago Cultural Center into a prime downtown performing arts venue, launching the city’s SummerDance and World Music Festival, and programming Millennium Park. Since 2012, Mike has headed the National Endowment for the Arts’ Artist Communities and Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works program and has responsibility over the NEA’s International programs.
Artist Award Honoree: Thomas Mapfumo The Lion of Zimbabwe is one of Africa’s greatest and most important composers and bandleaders and an immensely popular musician who is currently living in exile in the US. Known for merging ancient African traditions with modern styles, Mapfumo’s courageous, politically charged music called chimurenga has changed the landscape of African music forever. By 1978, he and his band The Blacks Unlimited had morphed into a symbol for the struggle against injustice. His music alongside a fierce and proud independence continues to inspire around the world.
Trouble Worldwide Honoree: Posthumously awarded to Alexandra Nova (nee Casazza), for whom the award was named. The radical Brazil-born Casazza started her career as an intern at Warner Music Brazil and worked her way up to managing PR and marketing for Sony and BMG. After working over 10 years in the music industry in Rio de Janeiro, she moved to San Francisco in 1998. There, she lent her talents to Six Degrees Records as a booking agent and began planting the seeds for her own independent agency. Trouble Worldwide was launched in 2006 with a commitment to representing fearless creativity and global citizenship by bringing remarkable artists to worldwide audiences. Most recently, following the birth of her daughter, she began her latest endeavor Future Present – an agency focused on female artists. Her passion and spirit are missed terribly by many.
Preceding the globalFEST performances, the award ceremony was moving and emotional, especially in remembrance of Alex Nova.
The new globalFEST awards hold significance for the world music community in the U.S. There is shared symbolic value for everyone involved with world music – the achievements, the struggles, the sacrifices, the dedication and hard work.
This is Chicago-based music journalist and radio host/producer Catalina Maria Johnson’s introduction for Michael Orlove. Her words reflect the gratitude and admiration so many in America feel towards him.
Thank you! It is an honor to present the inaugural Globalfest Impact Award which celebrates outstanding commitment to our field to Michael Orlove, director of Artist Communities and Presenting & Multidisciplinary Works for the National Endowment for the Arts.
As a fellow Chicagoan, I’d like to share some of the happy consequences of the impact of his commitment to the field.
During his tenure at the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, Michael founded our World Music Festival which is 20 years old this year. That festival has made Chicago a transnational cultural hub, and if many of us Chicagoans are participating here and at other international gatherings, it is in no small part thanks to the fact that he blazed trails for us to follow.
And I found out just last night that Winter Jazzfest’s creator, Brice Rosenbloom, who went to Northwestern University in Chicago, considers Michael his primary mentor. So you can thank Chicago and Michael for Winter Jazzfest too.
This is all part of one of Michael’s great talents – We know him as the great connector, he has connected and thereby impacted countless individuals, movers and shakers, communities, organizations in too many ways to detail here … although I could speak for hours about this, but I only have two minutes.
But apart from being the great connector and a true master at cultural diplomacy, he is known to all of us as someone you can approach no matter who you are. No matter whether or not you’re high on the totem pole or hierarchy or not, Michael will always be generous with his time and knowledge. And for that alone, the kindness and respect that he affords everyone, he should be celebrated.
There is truly no one I think more deserving of being honored by this inaugural Globalfest impact award than from a Chicagoans point of view, our man in Washington, Michael Orlove.
15th Anniversary globalFEST Notes
The big news is that globalFEST has moved to larger venues on Broadway: B.B. King, Lucille’s, and just across 42nd Street, the Liberty Theater. Apart from the excellent technical values headed up by Danny Kapilian, production director, there is greater spaciousness for moving around. But the event is still as packed as ever with capacity crowds.
There were enough diverse acts from all over the globe bound to please, whether your taste runs to the traditional, avant-garde, or pepped-up dance floor fun.
There were musical references to American idioms, rock, blues, jazz, and hip-hop. A festival programming attribute, the western influence on world music genres, can yield stylistic familiarity and surprising innovation at once. Musical languages and mixes are infinite. Then there were the semi-traditional and traditional acts.
The showcase evening of 12 acts opened with the Persian star and revolutionary, Mohsen Namjoo. Living in exile from his country, he was sentenced in absentia to prison in 2009 for setting passages of the Qur’an to music. Above all, he is a musical icon of freedom of expression for all Iranians in exile. His set blended traditional Persian rhythms with rock and blues. The repertoire was drawn from his new album, “Axis of Solitude.” His searing vocals, howled, mourned, and declaimed with dramatic conviction.
The evening’s huge surprise for me was the Delgres Band. Nothing could have prepared me for this fabulous concoction of Guadalupe’s biguine folk swing, New Orleans brass band, and Mississippi Delta blues. The concept was born from Pascal Danae’s ancestral family history, originally from Guadeloupe.
During Napoleon’s reinstatement of slavery in 1802, many from the island fled to New Orleans. Louis Delgres, a mulatto freedom fighter led the resistance movement and died heroically and so valiantly. As Danae summoned Delgres’ spirit in patois in the arresting tribute song, “Mo Jodi” (Die Today), the roar of incantatory rhythms filled Lucille’s. Danae’s rock slide guitar rang with funk blues twang, the sousaphone player growled with ominous bass lines, and the drummer made sure the room was stomping. The spell was cast.
Brazilian singer and songwriter Ava Rocha’s showcase moved from avant garde flirtatiousness to political radicalism. One of the evening’s highpoints was watching her sing and perform “Transeunte Coração.” She’s fascinating to watch. With idiosyncratic performance art movements she danced and writhed in slow motion, as her seductive, deep voice spoke the same language of dark romance in French chanson – with a samba beat. Later, urgency gripped her voice. She rapped classic Tropicalia protest in “Auto das Bacantes.” “Disrupt the state, the police, the NSA, Wonder Woman, and cause a geopolitical stir,” run the jarring lyrics in translation. Trippy jazz electronica, funk samba, and distorted rock guitar lines intensified her presence. She’s one of Brazil’s most interesting artists and increasingly part of the Latin American women’s narrative against oppression and injustice.
American blues had a shining moment through Detroit’s Queen of Blues, Thornetta Davis. There was piano honky-tonk punctuating and embellishing her R&B songs. The light-hearted cheerfulness of her band and chorus ensured that the crowds were captivated in a positive way by the “Honest Woman.” The show was in the B.B. King main room. The ambiance was perfect for Ms. Davis’ gospel power embedded in that big blues voice.
I wondered if the audience knew that behind the exhilarating Jupiter Okwess performance the song held trenchant lyrics, featuring Congolese proverbial wisdom, condemnation of corruption, or advocacy of women? The band is dominated by heavy percussions, electric bass and guitars. The group’s Congolese various rock rumba stylings, mostly at soukous tempo speed, were relentlessly driven with carnival raucousness, pumping rhythms, and frenzied dancing. Circular rhythmic phrasings, call and response chorals, that phalanx of musicians moving forward and back in line formation, Jupiter Okwess is a hard charging male vibe.
Two hip-hop spliced acts had foundations in Cuba and India. Cuba’s La Dame Blanche proclaimed at her start, “Hip Hop Urbano Cubano!” Her appearance was a wild combination of trilling chants in Spanish and piping on classical silver flute. While bolstered by two other musicians, one on keys, dealing out reggae dubs and reverb effects, and another on clarinet and drums. She was a sassy presence in a white mini-skirt outfit and white and silver platform boots, flowers pasted to her calves, singing Ave Maria, strutting and undulating as she played and sang. Her style has a lot to do with Jamaican toasting and she clearly loves being a free spirit.
Grand Tapestry was another genre crossing collaboration bridging hip-hop and Indian classical music. L.A. based MC Eligh has teamed up with Alam Khan, the son of the late master Ali Akbar Khan, on the 25-stringed fretless sarod and Salar Nader, disciple of Zakir Hussain, on tabla to produce a contemporary ancient sound. The unusual combination of Indian high instrumental contemplativeness and Eligh’s introspective rapping poetry yields a mesmerizing and transcendent flow. celebrating love and life’s trials and triumphs.
There was a whole array of the traditional from Europe and Latin America, reviving and preserving some of the world’s unforgettable music.
Jarlath Henderson is one of the heroes of the new Celtic folk scene, from County Tyrone, Ireland. He was the youngest winner of the BBC Young Folk Award in 2003 During globalFEST, he sang traditional songs – even one 450 years old – with gusto and nuanced tenderness. From song to song, he accompanied himself on the uilleann pipes and guitar, while his band brought in hints of modern jazz with rock-tinges. His Irish lilt and cadence were charming, while his band took the folk beautiful to the abstract.
Singer Eva Salina and accordionist Peter Stan recreate some of the best Balkan Romani music in America. Together they opened up the heart’s intimacies of old world charm and reminiscence. California-raised, Eva’s soul was immersed in Balkan music from childhood. Her musical partner’s heritage is Serbian Romanian.
Eva’s beautiful melismatic vocals, effortlessly gliding over songs of Romani despair, sorrow, and love’s yearning, immortalized songs by two of Serbia’s greats, Šaban Bajramović (1936-2008) and Vida Pavlović (1945-2005). They are revered by the Balkan diaspora as king and queen of the Balkan Romani. Peter Stan played melody and rhythm at once on his accordion, swooping and racing across chordal harmonies, in complex counterpoint to Eva Salina’s vocals.
Two American Latin groups brought refreshing dimensions to bolero and mariachi traditions. While Puerto Rico is forever known as the land of salsa, Miramar ensured newer knowledge of her bolero history. Chilean American Marlyse Simmons on keyboards and organ, Puerto Rican singer Rei Alvarez, and Tennessee-born singer Laura Ann Singh with a love of bossa nova, delivered a lovely tribute to the late Sylvia Rexach’s bolero repertoire. Bolero’s languorous candle-lit passion swirled with string quartet romance and guitar serenades.
Flor de Toloache, the all women’s mariachi group, demolished the idea that mariachi is strictly male domain. Dressed in identical black charro uniforms embellished with silver accents on their leggings, short jackets, and a blooming red rose on the ear, the musicians played their guitars, violins, horns and flute with rousing flair. They’re a crowd-pleaser with jaunty cumbia and polka rhythms, grito yelps, and sweet vocal harmonies.
Out of all the groups, the Georgian men’s spectacular polyphonic choir from Tbilisi, Iberi, stayed closest to centuries’ old tradition without any contemporary reference. The six singers wore the black chokha coat dating back to the ninth century and symbolic of national pride. With bandoliers over the chest and silver daggers at the hip, the chokha carries the country’s history and recalls armed resistance against the country’s occupation.
With modulated, ringing two and three part harmonies, Iberi’s repertoire was a concert of ancient folk songs for different occasions from Georgia’s diverse regions. They sang sprightly dancing and harvest tunes, a shepherd’s ballad, and even a joking song – representative of the western and eastern regions of the country. Instruments included the fretted long neck lutes, panduri and chongui, and duduk reed woodwinds played as a pair.
The evening following globalFEST, Juliana Voloz, Iberi’s European manager, held a special Iberi “supra” showcase event at the delightful Oda House restaurant in lower Manhattan, odahouse.com. If you’ve never tasted Georgian cuisine, this is the place to go. Maia Acquaviva, the owner, prepared a masterful and memorable supra menu with elegant herb and ground walnut appetizers, scrumptious cheese and bean pastries, salads, a phenomenal lamb tarragon stew, chicken napped with a rich blackberry sauce, and irresistible cake desserts.
The supra is the backbone of Georgian social culture: an extravagant feast filled with delicious foods and especially – lots of wine toasting with gladdening songs. Iberi did the musical honors. Never turn down an invitation for a Georgian supra at Oda House.
Winter Jazzfest Notes
Coming up right alongside globalFEST’s longevity, Winter Jazzfest celebrated its14th year. Every year during APAP I marvel over its invaluable, entrepreneurial role in expanding knowledge about and pushing the growth of jazz for larger and more diverse audiences. Producer and founder Brice Rosenbloom with his team of publicists and tech producers pull off one of the best annual events in New York City.
The festival showcase has taken over just about every major venue in lower Manhattan from Tribeca to Greenwich Village and the East Village. All told, the 8 day long festival featured over 130 groups and 600+ domestic and international musicians. Apart from typically packed showcase concerts, there were special events, and talks.
The festival programming addressed this country’s current social and political ills directly and head-on. It exemplified APAP’s activist theme with impressive force. The mission was clear in their social justice engagement manifesto:
The 2018 Winter Jazzfest explicitly supports social and racial justice, gender equality, and immigrant rights by presenting courageous socially engaged artists who have urgent and beautiful musical messages to share. Directly addressing the sense of crisis confronting our nation, we stand firmly with #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, and #wehaveavoice, and seek to address discrimination, sexism, immigration injustice and other issues deeply threatening our inclusive music community and beyond.
Artists have always been at the heart of movement-building and social solidarity. Protest and resistance are central to jazz’s existence from its beginnings as the music of marginalized black Americans. Jazz’s vitality and effectiveness in voicing truths about life in America has not changed. As wide-ranging as music can be in style, format and message, so is the manner in which it reflects the politics and social issues of today. We hope the message and music further inspires audiences, musicians, and fellow presenters to uphold the dignity of our culture.
Take a look at the Winter Jazzfest panel discussions content and the line-up of notable speakers. It’s another snapshot of the critical challenges facing America with inputs by key activist voices:
Jazz on the Border: International Musicians and U.S. Visas
with Antonio Sanchez, Alexis Cuadrado, Lucia Cadotsch and moderated by Matthew Covey
This panel, featuring musicians, agents, and legal professionals, will discuss ways that U.S. immigration law impacts the U.S. jazz scene. We will discuss strategies for avoiding problems, and we’ll be doing a deep dive into some of the unique challenges jazz artists frequently encounter. Special attention will be paid to the changes under the new administration.
Jazz and Gender: Challenging Inequality and Forging a New Legacy
with Angela Davis, Lara Pellegrinelli, Arnetta Johnson, and Vijay Iyer, moderated by Terri Lyne Carrington
Jazz has been a transformational, spiritual, and social movement on the global stage – creating an enduring legacy. Also embedded in its legacy are sexism and other forms of alienation. We are experiencing a watershed moment and the jazz community cannot deny our obligation to imagine and give shape to the future. We must critically challenge the prevailing code that has historically repressed and continues to render invisible many of the art form’s creative contributors.
The Long March: A Conversation on Jazz and Protest Through the Generations with featured guest Archie Shepp, Steve Colson, Nicole Mitchell, and Samora Pinderhughes, moderated by Ras Moshe Burnett
Jazz is inherently a music of social commentary and protest. Today we’re experiencing a true movement of contemporary jazz musicians expressing messages of justice, equality, and freedom. We’re pleased to engage three talented artists from three generations who each naturally embody the socially conceptual aspect of jazz performance. The focus will be on the chronological history of jazz as a functional component in political consciousness and engagement.
There were several special concert events including a British showcase hosted by DJ Gilles Peterson, a Jose James debut project inspired by Bill Withers, a Buika concert, Ravi Coltrane’s tribute to his mother, Alice Coltrane, a benefit tribute for the late Geri Allen, a performance by Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble, and a collaboration between Deerhoof and Wadada Leo Smith. This year, there were four separate performances by the artist-in-residence, Nicole Mitchell, flutist, composer, and bandleader from Chicago.
The centerpiece of Winter Jazzfest continued to be the weekend marathon nights, January 12 and 13. It’s by now a smash hit. There were about 9000 attendees trekking through 11 venues to take in 100 sets.
One of the best listening spaces in the city is the Tishman auditorium at the New School. On Friday night, I stayed for the continuum of just about 3 complete sets. Stepping into Stefon Harris & Blackout’s set halfway through was instant pleasure. A relatively young musician known for his mastery of the vibraphone, he also plays the marimba.
The “vibes” are not often heard as a lead instrument. Harris’ playing embraced its luminosity with his group on guitar, piano, bass, and drums, featuring Casey Benjamin on alto sax and vocoder. His arrangements for the band and his playing were filled with constant mercurial inventiveness. From dreamy R&B melodiousness to straight-ahead jazz with bracing funk phrasings, the group was on their toes. Before he launched into the group’s version of Horace Silver’s “The Cape Verdean Blues,” their finale, he spoke about the immigrant crisis and the vital necessity of defending them.
I want to say something about immigrants who come from this country, who made this country. We are all immigrants here, whether voluntarily and involuntarily. And it’s not just about the concept of diversity. Many times people talk about diversity to pull people together of different races in the room, but they don’t really understand the concept of inclusion. Just because you have people of color sprinkled among you doesn’t mean those people feel included….
You see, when we think about the immigrant populations who come to this country they come here with a hunger and a drive to better their lives, to better the lives of their children and their grandchildren. They believe in the ideals that have established this country…. It’s to our benefit on a spiritual level to be gracious with one another…. When we’re going through changes as a nation, apathy does have an effect, it goes to the people who are winning the battle. So if we’re going through a phase of hatred, of bigotry, and we sit around and do nothing we’re actually contributing to it. So let’s come together as a community of artists, as a community of people who understand the power of art and compassion, to stand up and do something. Create an act of love in whatever way you need to do, so we take control of this battle. It’s real out there.
Next up, Marc Ribot’s “Songs of Resistance” project was a tough continuation of Stefon Harris’ advocacy for immigrants. His set was a political condemnation of the current administration’s degradations and injustices. He sang and chanted fiercely brutal songs inspired by the civil rights era and others from European and Latin American resistance movements.
After he commented on a recent ICE arrest of a “major activist,” Mr. Ribot’s lyrics wove in references to Woody Guthrie (“This Land is Your Land”) and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus’ poem (“Give me your tired, your poor”) inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. James Brandon Lewis’s sax shrieked in dissonant outrage and Domenica Fossati added urgency with her back-up vocals. Ribot’s renditions and English translations of the famous 40s Italian partisan resistance song against fascism, “Ciao Bella,” and Paquita la del Barrio’s diatribe against Mexican male sexism, “Rata de Dos Patas,” minced no words.
NIcole Mitchell’s celebratory “Art and Anthem for Gwendolyn Brooks” with Jason Moran on piano topped off Friday night at the Tishman. A liberation narrative performance with poetry by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000), the composition pays homage to one of Ms. Mitchell’s main influences. Ms. Brooks was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 and the first African American woman inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1976. Her works are historical testimonials to the social inequities and conditions of black people – with a distinct blues feel.
As Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Moran gave emotional muscle to her thoughts and ideas, Erica Hunt recited and Shana Tucker sang her poetry as if they were intimate diary entries or symbolic historical documentation. The final concert poem was “To The Diaspora,” with dancer Rashida Bumbray bobbing and shaking across the stage, adding polyrhythmic texture with her ankle rattles. Mitchell/Moran with Shirazette Tinnin on drums and Brad Jones on bass, caught the meters and riffed on the poetic cadences with such brightness. A wondrous moment of group triumph.
Saturday night was a race around festival venues. It was frigid outside but the rooms were warm. For me there were three more standout shows. This was the opportunity to hear the much-touted Mexican drummer, composer, and bandleader Antonio Sánchez with his quintet Migration. I caught about half of his electro-acoustic set. Progressive and contemporary, the ensemble was balanced, graceful – drums, bass, sax and electronic wood instrument, piano and keyboards, and vocals. Mr. Sánchez’s exhilarating power of his gear combined with his polyrhythmic style (he uses both hands and feet) was the draw. He scattered textured patterns around the other musicians or sometimes pounced suddenly with ricocheting volleys, asserting his presence and lead.
SOB’s hosted the live experience of New Orleans’ exceptional trumpet player Nicholas Payton’s “Afro-Caribbean Mixtape,” his latest recording project. It was as much a tribute to the multitude of cultural influences that have flowed through New Orleans as the African Diaspora throughout the Caribbean. Laid-back introspective grooves with social commentary about forms of black spiritualism as means of survival shifted to vibrant instrumental intensities. The group included original recording members – Mr. Payton on trumpet and keys, Vicente Archer, bass, Joe Dyson, drums, and Daniel Sadownick, percussion. They delved into jazz funk and Caribbean sacred rhythms with turntable scratching by DJ Lady Fingaz. It was a vast ocean of sounds from the Americas in one sitting.
Sun Ra Arkestra’s live performance of the score for Sun Ra’s 1972 film, “Space is the Place” tied up the final marathon night with retrospective elan. The late composer, bandleader, futurist piano and keyboard/synthesizer player, and “cosmic philosopher’s” epic film, matched the festival’s consciousness-raising ethos. The film’s allegorical counter narrative against oppression served to remind that racism is still rampant today.
The concert with the film screening also represented Sun Ra’s tantalizing belief that his music is the path to salvation for the human race. His musical collective, The Arkestra, lives on. There were 14 musicians dressed in sequined technicolor robes including early eminent Arkestra sax members, Marshall Allen, Knoel Scott, and James Spaulding. To transform and heal itself, humanity needs tunings to higher outer planetary forces. No doubt.
Winter Jazzfest served justice so well this year. Through the listenings, we were fortified by strength, hope, and inspiration for the months ahead. The festival has by now gained through its programming with a cause – a leadership reputation for presenting outstanding voices in defense of human rights.
The annual Music Festival conducted in December-January in Chennai is a unique phenomenon. It is the largest festival of its kind in the world, with close to 2000 performances of music, dance, drama, spiritual discourses, lecture-demonstrations, discussions and related events.
While the essence of the festival is entertainment through these forms of art, there is an impressive gastronomic delight built in – In the close to 60 odd sabhas or organizations that host the various activities, impromptu canteens spring up, catering mouth-watering dishes relished not only by the rasikas who attend the programmes, but also by the local residents who take full advantage of these temporary canteens. Indeed, many of the performing artistes also join the rasikas in enjoying the menu!
Started in 1927, the Madras Music Festival (the original name from days gone by when Chennai was Madras) has grown to its present gigantic form over the years, thanks to the generous patronage of the corporate world, and the discerning music fans (rasikas) who come from all over the world.
While most enthusiasts coming from abroad (USA, UK, the Middle East and Singapore for the main part) are Indians, there is a growing number of westerners with interest in Carnatic Music who attend these concerts.
In 2017, most sabhas are reported to have had between 50 and 100 people of non-Indian origin every day, especially for the music and dance events. The Season provides a platform for established artistes as well as budding ones to showcase their talent.
My wife and I attended this year’s season. While we regularly travel to Chennai during the Season from wherever we are, we would rarely get more than 3 or 4 days of quality music. We decided long back that this year would be different. And it was. We stayed put for 18 days in all, soaking in the grand art in all its glory. And we found that the Season has evolved over the years, in more ways than one. Here is how:
The first, and perhaps the most satisfying aspect was the quality of the performances. There has always been this lament of doomsday pessimists that Carnatic music is on the decline, that a few years down the line, it would be relegated to history books. Even the wackiest pessimist would have had a change of heart had they, like us, attended the festival this year.
A vast majority of performances were by talented youngsters in their 20s and thirties. And they performed like stalwarts! There was no sign of undue nervousness, no stage fear. Instead, all of them exuded supreme confidence in the way they went about displaying their understanding and even mastery of the complex art form that Carnatic music is.
The selection of kritis, the pace of delivery, an occasional remark about some significant aspect of a raga or composition – this was, for us, a pleasant change from bygone years when artistes came on stage, belted out their fare, and left. Today’s performers do not seem shy of communicating with the audience – and every time this happened, I saw the audience love it. Without exception.
A few years ago, one of the magazines lamented the “death” of the Ragam Tanam Pallavi, the ultimate jewel of the Carnatic music platform. This year, the audience was treated to a veritable feast of RTPs! Indeed, a new term has emerged – the RTK – Ragam Tanam followed by a weighty composition (called Kriti) to underpin the beauty of the chosen raga.
The quality of accompanists: A missed or misplaced note (referred to as abhaswaram) played by the accompanist can stick out like a sore thumb, disturbing the flow of the main singer and audience satisfaction. It is a tribute to the teachers and trainers of today’s young accompanists that the cynic in me could not identify a single instance of abhaswaram in the 40 odd concerts I heard this season. On the contrary, some of the violin accompanists were superlative, matching the main artiste note for note, unfazed by the stature of the senior they were accompanying.
Never shy of going back stage and talking to artistes, I had the pleasure of conveying my sentiments to many of these youngsters. Many of the new (to me, not the regular concert goer in Chennai) violinists I met were all students of Sangeetha Kalanidhi Smt Kanyakumari. I mention this because the Parur and Lalgudi schools are known to produce violinists who strictly adhere to sruti suddham or purity of notes. Here is another set of high level performers being trained by one of the top violinists of today – what can be more reassuring about the future of our heritage than this?
As for the percussionists, no amount of praise is enough. Every single mridangam, ghatam or kanjeera player seems to a master of mathematics, so sure is their grasp of laya. Sure some of the less experienced ones need to mature, but they don’t lack talent, they merely need on-stage experience. Which, thankfully, is abundantly available. Which could well be the reason for yet another significant change noticed this year – far few people walk out during the solo by the percussionists, and this in turn motivates the artistes to perform better.
The ubiquitous internet and its ally, the sophistication of present day smart phones, have made a huge difference too, unlike in the preceding years. It is possible to find out details of the song being sung by looking it up instantly on the internet – knowing about the composer, the raga in which it is being sung, and especially the ability to follow the lyrics as the kriti unfolds on stage, has made a huge difference to the overall enjoyment of the concert. That’s technology aided entertainment in the truest sense!
Time keeping: An extremely satisfying aspect noticed this time around was the clockwork precision with which the major sabhas conduct their programmes. The Music Academy has always been very strict with schedules, but other sabhas are catching on quickly. My wife and I experienced only one instance of a programme not starting on time. I may be unaware of other lapses in this, but the general consensus is that most places the programmes start and end on time.
Themed events: Finally, a whole new range of themed events are adding value to the festival. Ranjani and Gayatri, arguably the top vocalists in the circuit, did an RTP in each of their concerts, paying tribute to various composers. They did this by choosing one popular kriti of each composer and doing an RTP in the raga of that composition, using the first line of the composition as the lyrics for the pallavi. I was amazed at their innovative sense, as were most others.
There were some restaurants that combined meals with music – by having artistes present in their premises. This gave the rasikas a chance to see their favorites close – up, and interact with them. Most sabhas distributed daily leaflets – absolutely free of charge – carrying tid bits and anecdotes from around the city’s sabhas – al this by a bunch of enthusiasts giving of their time and effort voluntarily.
My wife and I came away more than satisfied after this season, convinced that the face of Madras Music Season is changing, and changing for the better. I am convinced that far from fading away, Carnatic music is poised to reach a whole new dimension in the capable hands of today’s generation of performers.
Joropo is a musical genre and dance form found in the plains of Venezuela. Los Llanos, the broad plains of western Venezuela and eastern Colombia, watered by the Orinoco River and its tributaries, are home to música llanera (literally, “plains music”), the engaging musical traditions created by ranching people with a love for cattle, horses, music and dance. At the heart of this region’s music is joropo, a hard-driving music that brilliantly showcases the percussive capabilities of stringed instruments and the musician’s ability to improvise.
The main instrument of llanera music is perhaps an unexpected one – the harp. Introduced to South America in the 18th century by the Spaniards, in the hands of the llanero, or plains cowboy, the harp became a percussive dynamo that serves as the backbone of música llanera Joropo ensembles are generally comprised of the harp, the bandola llanera (a four-stringed pear-shaped guitar), the small four-stringed cuatro, contrabajo (acoustic bass), rounded out by maracas (gourd rattles) and vocals.
Joropo music features both slower, more lyrical songs called pasajes as well as faster tunes called golpes. The hallmarks of the traditional joropo singer are a powerful voice that can handle the fast, hard-edged vocal style and the ability to improvise the lyrics.
As rural llaneros and musicians have migrated to cities for economic opportunities, the music of the plains has gained prominence in Colombia and Venezuela and is now a part of the commercial music industry and festivals Música llanera has become an expression a regional pride.
Joropo oriental – Joropo Oriental is a rare Venezuelan version of the genre that is characterized by an improvisational style of singing, a variety of stringed instruments such as the bandola, mandolin, guitar and cuatro plus a regionally distinct style of maracas that provides the only percussive element.
Sources: Richmond Folk Festival, Old Town School of Folk Music
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion