Do you remember last January when you said, “Hey, just throw all them in that big plastic bag,” and the other person did exactly that? Yeah, well it’s that time of year to face that big plastic bag of now knotted Christmas lights because the person responsible didn’t coil them neatly.
Along with the now snake pit of lights, you’ll be facing the endless list making, trying to crowbar out gift ideas from those curmudgeons in your family, preparing the assembly line of Christmas cookies and treats and rummaging through the boxes of last year’s decorations to pluck out the survivors. You know what you need? You need some Christmas music, either to get you in the holiday mood or to drown out the screaming of the person outside who just stapled his or her finger attempting to put up the new strands of lights because the cat has made a bed of the snake pit of old lights. Lucky for you World Music Central has a whole host of new and classic goodies for you to check out for your listening pleasure.
Looking to having yourself a merry little country Christmas? Well, you might want to check out country queen Reba McEntire’s My Kind of Christmas with tracks like “Winter Wonderland,” “The Christmas Song,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Silent Night” with Kelly Clarkson and Trisha Yearwood.
Alan Jackson has out this season Let It Be Christmas with a sweetly country version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” as well as goodies like “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells.”
Nashville session musician and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charlie McCoy has put out the harmonica happy Classic Country Christmas with offerings like “O Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” “Christmas Time Is Here” and “Tender Tennessee Christmas.”
Ready to kick your holiday shindig up a notch or two? Well, you can get yourself a big old helping of 2015’s Southern Rock Christmas with sweet goodies like “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” by The Artimus Pyle Band, “Merry Christmas Baby” by Point Blank, “Please Come Home for Christmas” by Adam Hood, “Christmas Everywhere” by Black Oak Arkansas and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” by the Oak Ridge Boys.
There is also the compilation from Contrast Records called Santa Claus Is From the South with tracks like “Santa Is On His Way” by Bob Willis & His Texas Playboys, “Christmas Time Is A-Coming” by Bill Monroe, “Blue Christmas” by Hank Snow and for those of you remember The Porter Wagoner Show Kenny Roberts with his track “Christmas Roses.”
There’s also Bluegrass powerhouse Balsam Range’s It’s Christmas Time out on the Mountain Home Music Company label. This has got goodies like “Christmas Lullaby,” “The First Noel,” “I’m Going Home, It’s Christmas” and a kicking version of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
North Carolina’s Bluegrass group Nu-Blu is ready to swing you into the mood with their digital offering Shine with sparkling little goodies like title track “Shine,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” “What Child Is This” and “Mary Did You Know.”
For a little loftier fare, the Berliner Philharmoniker with Herbert von Karajan on The Christmas Album – Vol. 2 might just hit that inner holiday spirit in the sweet spot. There are some truly lovely tracks on this recording as in “Corelli: Concerto grosso In G Minor, Op.6, MC 68” Fatto per la Notte di Natalie” -1. Vivace – Grave – Allegro,” “Pachebel: Canon And Gigue In D Major, P 37 – Arr. For Orchestra By Max Seiffert – 1. Canon,” “Torelli: Concerto Grosso In G Minor, Op 8, No. 6 “Christmas Concerto” – 2. Largo,” “Manfredini: Concerto In C, Op 3, No. 12 – “Christmas Concerto: -1. Largo (Pastorale per il Santissimo Natale)” and “Locatelli: Concerto Grosso In F Minor, Op. 1, No. 8 “Christmas Concerto” – 4. Largo Adante.”
The Decca/London label has put out Winter Songs by Ola Gjeilo/Choir of Royal Holloway/12 Ensemble. The goodies on this recording “Ecce Novum,” “Across The Vast, Eternal Sky,” “The Coventry Carol,” “Wintertide” and a sweet little version of “Silent Night.”
There’s also Joyeaux Noel French Christmas Music with Michel Corrette, Pierre Dandrieu, Christian Lambour, La Fantasia and the Arcadia Ensemble with conductors Rien Voskruilen and Kevin Mallon. Tracks include “Te Deum in D Major,” “Dixit Dominus,” “Messe de Minuit Pour Noel, H. 9: I. Kyrie” and Messe de Minuit Pour Noel, H. 9: II Gloria.”
Sony Masterworks has put out Placido Domingo & Friends Celebrate Christmas in Vienna. Listeners get to wallow around in the wonders of Placido Domingo and enjoy tracks like “White Christmas” with Diana Ross, “Carol of the Bells” with Vjekoslav Sutej, Sissel Kyrkjebo, Charles Aznavour and the Wiener Opernkinderchor, “I Wonder As I Wander,” “Angels We Have Heard On High” with Tony Bennett and Vanessa Williams and “Stille Nacht” with Jose Carreras and Diana Ross.
Listeners might want to check out the dulcet Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist on their season’s offering Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring: Christmas with The Dominican Sisters of Mary. The sweet sisters offer up treats like “Christmas Proclamation,” “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” “Emmanuel,” “Adeste Fideles,” “Gabriel’s Message” and “Gaudete” and each is more and more lovely.
And, there’s more. Oh, so much more!
If you were wondering what Herb Alpert of Tijuana Brass fame was up to – well, apparently a Christmas CD called simply The Christmas Wish. Ramping up his sound with a 45-piece orchestra, a 10-piece rhythm section and a 32-member choir, Mr. Alpert hits all the right notes with “Medley: Joy to the World/Silver Bells,” “Santa Baby,” “Winter Wonderland,” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and other Christmas classics.
Sony Legacy has dug through its archives and pulled out Christmas with Elvis and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for your listening pleasure. Fans can expect oldies but goodies like “White Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Baby,” “Blue Christmas,” “The First Noel” and “Silent Night” by The King himself.
Even Smokey Robinson has succumbed to the pressure of the Christmas album with his first titled Christmas Everyday. Opening the “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” gets with guest artist Trombone Shorty, Christmas Everyday gets the cool treatment with tracks like “This Christmas,” “The Night That Baby Was Born,” “You’re My Present” with The Dap Kings and “O Holy Night” with Take 6.
The ever popular Celtic Woman has put out The Best of Christmas with tracks like “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night” and “Once In Royal David’s City.”
The powerhouse band the Sultans of String have put out Christmas Caravan. This is a treasure trove of goodies like “Turkish Greensleeves” with Gundem Yayli Grubu, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” with Mary Fahl, “Flight of Angels/Hark the Hearld” with Chris McKhool and Rebecca Campbell, “Celebrate the Holydays: with Sweet Honey in the Rock, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” with Ruben Blades and Luba Mason, “Himalayan Sleigh Ride” with Anwar Khurshid and “Feliz Navidad/Come on People Sing” with Alex Cuba.
David Arkenstone has put out Native Christmas on the Green Hill Productions label. With Native American flute, percussion, guitar and keyboards, Native Christmas is sweetly spare and restful with “Little Drummer Boy,” “We Three Kings,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Snow on the Mesa.”
If the classic pop Christmas is what you’re looking for you might just want to spring for the whole kit and caboodle in the 5-CD box set 100 Hits – Christmas Legends. This box set has it all from Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” to Perry Como’s “Its Beginning to Look a Lost Like Christmas” to Louis Armstrong’s “Cool Yule.” Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Mario Lanza, Glen Miller and Rosemary Clooney are all assembled her for your holiday pleasure.
The Capitol label has put out A Capitol Christmas Vol. 2 with treats like Glen Campbell’s “Blue Christmas,” The Beach Boys’s “Frosty the Snowman,” Dinah Shore’s “Jingle Bells” and Lena Horne’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
Concord Records has on tap this year Dave Koz & Friends 20th Anniversary Christmas. Joined by David Benoit, Rick Braun and Peter White, Mr. Koz smooths over the holiday edges with cool offerings like “Winter Wonderland,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” “Feliz Navidad” and “The Home Medley: I’ll Be Home for Christmas/Celebrate Me Home.”
For the vinyl junkies out there the label Music on Vinyl has put out the 2-CD set of Beautiful Day: Kurt Elling Sings Christmas. Lush and smooth, Beautiful Day offers up “Sing a Christmas Carol,” “We Three Kings,” “Wencelaus,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “The Beautiful Day.”
The Cleopatra label has Blues Christmas on offer this holiday season. With tracks like Joe Louis Walker’s “Christmas Comes But Once a Year,” Steve Cropper’s “Let’s Make Christmas Merry, Baby,” Kenny Neal’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’s “Santa” be prepared to have all your low down Christmas needs met.
Everyone who loves music needs to make a pilgrimage to the UK’s phenomenal annual WOMAD – World of Music Arts and Dance Festival – founded in 1980 by Peter Gabriel, womad.co.uk. To take in a mammoth feast of the world’s greatest music with kindred souls while one with nature in the English countryside is unimaginable pleasure and fun. In its 35th year it’s a fantastic festival experience – with superlative marks for organization, production, and programming.
Charlton Park, the WOMAD site, is situated near Malmesbury in the midst of the lush, fertile farmlands of Wiltshire County where the daytime light moves swiftly from brooding shadows to brilliant sunlight. (Wiltshire is locus for Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Circle.) This year’s edition had rain showers and sprinkles with occasional patches of blue skies. There is no such thing as a raincheck in England. Wellington boots are de rigeur. As Simon Broughton, Songlines editor in chief remarked, “WOMAD people are resilient.” (Songlines Magazine had a huge, cheery tent spanning at least 20 meters across for artists’ cd autographs and magazine sales. It was also the best shelter from rain spells.)
We have nothing like it in the U.S. WOMAD 2017 took place at the end of` last month from Thursday July 27th to Sunday, the 30th. 100 artists from 50 countries. Huge performance tents loomed up over the park’s several acres. 35,000 fans including masses of children, all of whom camped out in thousands of tents. (There are also nearby charming cottages if pampering is your style.) It’s the British spirit of adventure that beckons locals and astounds internationals. As well as the immersion in fresh-air countryside culture. Yoga and Tai Chi classes were the mid morning rousers. Add children’s activities, international cooking classes, music and dance workshops, and scores of food booths with tastings from Goa to Tibet.
Programming, so keenly attuned to what’s out there on the music markets, included several of the great established acts in the world music realm: Orchestra Baobab, Oumou Sangare, Seu Jorge, Bonga, Roy Ayers with Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Toko Telo, and Savina Yannatou. Rapidly gaining international favor, Cuba’s Dayme Arocena, Estonia’s Trad.Attack, China’s Zhou Family Band, and Sudan’s Alsarah and the Nubatones all won over new fans.
However, my goal was to catch some artists rarely if ever seen in the U.S., whom I’d never seen before, and whose recordings I admire. Here are the standouts.
Based in Castilla-La Mancha (the land of Don Quixote), Vigüela, one of the greatest folk groups from the heart of Spain caught my ear last year with their splendid CD, “Temperamento” (ARC Music). There are wedding and harvest songs and songs to accompany daily chores – even sheep-shearing music on the recording. Viguela’s exuberant acoustic WOMAD concert seemed to make the earth sing in joyous, celebratory unison. The excitement in the crowds was infectious as everyone clapped along to the rhythms with shouts of “Olé!” I was certain how thrilled the spirit of the late BBC London’s radio presenter, musicologist, and writer, Charlie Gillett, must have been to welcome Vigüela to his dedicated BBC 3 WOMAD stage.
For over 3 decades, the group of 5 has managed to preserve their village songs with all the dedicated finesse and detail that could have been lost with time. The members played the 12-string bandurria mandolin, lute, rebec fiddle, guitar, friction drum, tambourines, and castanets with aplomb, flair, and camaraderie. They incorporated some of their recorded percussive ranch household utensils: spoon and pan, glass bottle, mortar, stones, cowbells, sieve, and sheep-shearing scissors. The air rang with Vigüela’s renditions of sprightly dance music – the fandango, malagueña, seguidilla, and jota. Strong, melismatic voices enraptured with fervent passion. Towards the end a couple swirled and whirled to a jota dance song. The group has injected ancient folk songs with rousingly fresh, dynamic, and revitalized new energies. Vigüela is triumphant assertion of life itself. They’re a classic.
The dense mangrove rainforest swamps on the Pacific coast of Colombia are home to most of the 5 million Afro-Colombians in the country. There, in the small Timbiqui village of 20,000, surrounded by river waters, artisanal mining, hand panning for gold flakes, is one of the main local industries. And the home origins of Nidia Gongora’s Grupo Canalón de Timbiquí. Canalón refers to the chute through which earth and gold bits are funneled. Women sift through and rinse the sediment pourings in river waters in search of gold. Born in that environment, Nidia Gongora and her early high school mates formed Grupo Canalón de Timbiquí in 2003.
Nidia Gongora now has two musical personae: her current CD “Curao,” is her first solo album. The recording is a dazzling electronically driven collaboration with British DJ and producer Quantic with an urban Latina feel. She is better known and recognized as the ringleader of the award-winning, folkloric Grupo Canalón de Timbiquí. Both styles are rooted in Colombia’s Afro-Amerindian currulao music.
Nidia’s onstage vocal accompaniment featured 3 other women dressed in sombreros and bright yellow and blue ruffled dresses. They led complex harmonies in call and response choral formation with backing polyrhythmic percussive textures by 4 men players on marimba, and hand and stick drums. Nidia herself carried and shook the women’s emblematic guasa shaker. The group performed their region’s syncopated, gently rolling Afro-Amerindian music, sung for generations by village women as they panned for gold, cooked, breastfed, washed clothes in the river, and praised patron saints. Clearly, the women in Timbiqui society carry the day, bringing musical upliftment and determination, lightheartedness and faith, to what is grueling, tedious work. Given the WOMAD showers this year, the Grupo Canalon’s repertoire, originating in Timbiqui’s environment of abundant rain and river waters, was a concert consonant and a cleansing festival blessing.
Utterly unorthodox musically, yet exceeding expectations of a powerful performance, Ifriqiyya Electrique delivered a thunderous concert based on modalities of Tunisian ritual trance possession. Their source lies in the Djerid Oasis region, where marginalized Africans worship the 13th century black Sufi saint, Sidi Marzuq. The saint was born in Timbuktu, displaced as a captive, and eventually freed due to his prodigious miracles. Every year over a few days in mid-summer, sacred psychic healing ceremonies known as “Banga” take place, dedicated to Sidi Marzuq. Spirits (ruwahine) are summoned. Mesmerized by the incessant beating rhythms amidst clouds of burning benzoin incense, Banga devotees become possessed and fall into convulsive trance. Ifriqiyya Electrique’s concert was a stylized musical enactment of the actual ritual. Their performance strikes a remarkable balance between the rational and irrational.
The group’s central force are 3 adherents of Sidi Marzuq from Tozeur (Tarek Sultan, Yahya Chouchen, Youssef Ghazala). At maximum volume, they played clattering qaraqab metal castanets and drum, measuring out the group’s sung, declamatory praises to Allah, the Prophet Mohammed, saints, and benevolent spirits. Serving as interpolated sonic vectors, the guitarist (Francois R. Cambuzat) and bass player (Gianna Greco) with added electronic effects amplified and elevated the Banga grooves with serious rock swagger.
Part of the performance impact lay in the screened footage of the live ritual filmed in Tozeur: the percussionists leading the saint’s followers, nodding and weaving, stumbling and falling in wild, ecstatic trance (although the truncated screen needed to have filled the stage as full backdrop). “Brilliantly conceived,” as Simon Broughton has noted, the performance in its visual and sound totality can make one feel part of the Banga ritual experience. Following the concert, the percussionists from Tozeur came offstage and as they continued to play their metal castanets, children surrounded them, stepping to their beats in fascination.
Rapture, sheer rapture, was my overwhelming reaction as I watched and listened to Parvathy Baul together with Somjit Dasgupta, who played one of India’s rarest string instruments, the sursringar. I remained captivated by them until their very last notes.
A Bengali Baul spiritual singer and a “sadhak” for more than 3 decades, Parvathy Baul has one of the most beautiful voices today on the Indian subcontinent. She’s a foremost female in the Baul male-dominated tradition. Her WOMAD repertoire was drawn from yogic Baul mysticism, tracing back 15 centuries and more. Over time, it has absorbed elements from Sufism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Vaishnavism, and Tantra.
With exquisite phrasing and a palette of nuanced melodic tonalities, Parvathy gave soulful cry to her intense emotions. By moments imploring, by others deeply solemn or merrily elated, she reached blissful completion with each song. She spun around as she sang, her long streaming dreadlocks splaying forth. High on mystical divine love, she imparted infinite peace, wresting herself free of earthly attachments. Her sense of coordination was impressive – simultaneously plucking her ektara and tapping her duggi drum strapped to her waist; ankle bells ringing, she’s a one-woman minstrel band.
Yet it was Somjit Dasgupta’s shimmering, meditative, sitar-like glissandos and bass-pitched sarod sonorities on his sursringar that added luminous dimensions to Parvathy’s presence. They haven’t recorded together, but they must. They are delirious enchantment.
Just as I was leaving to prepare for my flight back to New York, I noticed masses of Afro Celt Sound System fans, including droves of teenagers and young children cramming the Charlie Gillett stage grounds. Everyone was dancing in the passing rain shower. Steaming heat rose from the wet grass as those Wellington boots stomped away. Farther along on the festival grounds, thousands covered the field facing the main Open Air Stage. More dancing to classic reggae tunes by the inimitable Toots and the Maytals. In the distance, the festival’s illuminated ferris wheel was glowing like a giant silvery moon. The world was happy.
Don’t miss WOMAD next year, July 26-29, 2018. (You might get hooked.)
The 20th Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) in Kuching, Sarawak (Malaysia) delivered a special four-day delight of preview showcases and evening performances. There were also interactive discussions between media and musicians each morning, followed by afternoon workshops and jam sessions.
The 2017 lineup of 22 international and 5 local groups included Abavuki (South Africa), Achanak (UK/India), Ba Cissoko (Guinea), Belem (Belgium), Bitori (Cape Verde), Calan (Wales), Cimarron (Colombia), Dom Flemons (US), Hanggai (China), Huw Williams (Wales), Kelele (South Africa), O Tahiti E (Tahiti), Okra Playground (Finland), Pareaso (Korea), Radio Cos (Spain), Romengo (Hungary), Saing Waing Orchestra (Myanmar), Spiro (UK), Svara Samsara (Indonesia), Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe (Taiwan), The Chipolatas (UK/Australia), and The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band (Thailand). The Malaysian lineup featured At Adau, Ilu Leto, Lan E Tuyang and Sekolah Seni Malaysia Sarawak from Sarawak, as well as Maliao Maliao Dance Troupe from Malacca.
During media interactions over three days, and in separate interviews, members of these 27 bands described their connection with nature, local and diaspora influences, traditional instruments, industry careers, political messages, and music impacts.
“In cities, we are separated from rural life and the natural world. I hope that we can honor nature while living in the city, it’s our responsibility,” said Jon Hunt from UK-based Spiro.
Landscapes are an influence and inspiration in their music as well.
“We are nature. We are part of our land. All our costumes are taken from nature,” said Marguerite Lai, founder of dance troupe O Tahiti E. For example, women wear red as the color of life.
“We really appreciate nature. The jungle is our playground in Sarawak. Our music reflects our love for nature,” said Meldrick Anak Udos from Kuching band At Adau. The band is named after the root of the tree used to make the sape string instrument. “Nature is very personal for us,” he added.
“Our music mimics the sound of wind blowing under coconut trees, farmers chasing cows, and bees humming around flowers,” said Nattapon Siangsukon of the Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band from Thailand, whose music reflects the culture of the north-east. “One of our musicians grew his own tree for 10 years to make his instrument,” he explained.
Cimarron from Colombia features the rural music and dances of peasants. “Our instruments are made from local woods from the rainforest of South America. We mention local animals in our songs, such as crocodiles and regional birds. The sounds of milking of cows are also in our songs,” explained Carlos Rojas from Cimarron.
RWMF itself sends out strong messages about nature and conservation by conducting a mangrove tree-planting ceremony at Kuching Wetland National Park the day before the festival. “The tree-planting ceremony was one of the most memorable experiences,” said Monika Lakatos, singer from Hungarian gypsy band Romengo.
Local and diaspora connections
A number of artists showcased unique instruments from their regions, such as bamboo mouth organ khaen and two-string guitar (Thailand); cuatro, bandola, maracas and tambora (Colombia); Burmese harp (Myanmar); twin-pipe nose flute (Taiwan); and kantele (Finnish cordophone). Others performed dances and rhythms from their region, such as the clog dance (Wales) and funana (Cape Verde).
Some world music bands play traditional music without modification, while others adapt it to new surroundings and audiences. “We are an experimental world music band. We are neither fully traditional nor fully contemporary,” explained Meldrick Anak Udos from Kuching band At Adau. Their influences include the cultures of the Iban, Bedayu, and Orang Ulu tribes.
Some musicians said they make their own instruments as well. “I make my own sape. I can play better with an instrument I make myself,” explained Mathew Ngau from Sarawak’s Lan E Tuyang.
“We learn traditional rhythms from villagers, and then adapt the music to our times,” said Gihon Siahaya, percussionist with Svara Samsara from Indonesia. “Our music is based on traditions but can’t be called traditional music,” he explained.
“Our music is rooted in folk but we also add our own lyrics,” said Sami Kujala, bassist with Finnish electro-folk group Okra Playground.
Many diaspora populations in the West have kept alive their homeland music and fused it with their new base culture as well. “Previous generations of our communities came to the UK from northwest Punjab in the 1950s and 60s,” said Ninder Johal, tabla player of UK-based bhangra fusion band Achanak. “We combine Punjabi folk music with Western instrumentation, and have been performing for 20 years,” he said.
Political awareness, social change and diplomacy
Many of the bands also had messages about global dialogue and local social change. “It used to be taboo for females to play the sape,” said Alena Murang of the all-female six-member group Ilu Leto (‘We The Ladies’).
The group is breaking away from such traditions – but also keeping alive other traditions such as the chants of the tribes Iban, Kelabit and Kenyah (there are over 50 tribes in Sarawak). “We are from six different ethnic groups. Social media has helped us connect and collaborate,” explained Alena.
“Countries and people need to talk to one another, not just make assumptions. Music festivals may be the last channel of diplomacy. They are going to become more important,” said Huw Williams from Wales.
The creative community needs to engage with the larger issues and challenges confronting our world – this includes visual artists, musicians, writers and more. “Musicians are in an industry which involves traveling around the world. It is our duty to inform others about what is happening where we travel and share these messages back home,” said Siyabulela Jiyani of Pan-African vocalists group Kelele.
“Protest music exists in multiple styles. South African music is well-informed of the challenges of the time, and is not just about good times,” said Siyabulela from the Capetown-based group.
Many musicians also expressed support for unity in diversity, and found commonality among the various cultures represented. “We are people of the world. We are different but so similar,” said Marguerite Lai, founder of dance troupe O Tahiti E. She pointed to the similarities in some words in Malay and Polynesian languages.
“I am a world citizen representing a larger cause,” added Don Flamins, songster and Grammy Award Winner from the US.
The performers agreed that one of the unique features of RWMF is the multiple opportunities for the bands to get to know one another and collaborate. “We made many good contacts and want our music from Guinea to go further around the world,” said kora virtuoso Ba Cissokho.
“Extreme commitment of the audience to stay and enjoy the performances even during heavy rains adds to the joy,” said Monika Lakatos, vocalist with Hungarian gypsy band Romengo.
“We don’t like rain during performances, except in the Rainforest,” joked Tristan Glover from music-humour trio Chipolatas.
The afternoon workshops and jam sessions are a major highlight of RWMF. “It was amazing to play together with people you have never met before. It was a magical experience for us to play with the Chinese horse fiddle player,” said Sami Kujala from Finland’s Okra Playground.
“At first we were very nervous about the workshops. But after the first workshop we relaxed and did very well,” said Hwang Dong Yoon from South Korea’s Pareaso.
The lighter side
Many performers also shared humorous anecdotes from their concerts around the world. “Our funniest experience was being in an Italian village where no one spoke English! It’s a great experience for all of you to be in such a situation – have fun,” joked Jay Tilag, director of Sekolah Sani Sarawak from Malaysia.
Finnish audiences may appear expressionless but show their emotions through texts, joked Sami Kujala from Okra Playground. For musicians it is better to have feedback right away, so such reserved behavior can be a challenge!
Tristan Glover of The Chipolatas shared another unusual experience during a performance in a Middle Eastern country. Men and women were seated separately, and there was absolutely no applause during the event – but a huge crowd gathered outside later for autographs and selfies!
Other than ‘feel good’ sentiments and global geography tours, world music festivals do have notable impacts as well. Many supporting anecdotes and trends were shared by the performers and organizers.
“A visible local impact of RWMF is the rise of awareness and pride in local culture and instruments among youth in Sarawak, such as the sape,” said June-Lin Yeoh, RWMF artistic director. “Youth are seeing foreigners play their sape with pride – and getting recognition, fame, and money as well,” she explained. Now many youth are making their own sape and forming traditional and fusion bands.
Another impact of the festival is closer cooperation and collaboration between the musicians from different countries. In many other festivals, the musicians just “load in, play, load out, leave,” said Jun-Lin. But at RWMF they make friends with each other and with locals as well. Interestingly, this year there were bands from China as well as Taiwan!
The setting of the festival is also unique. “Jungle, mountain and sea – all three are here,” said Jun-Lin proudly. The festival also highlights some instruments which one may never see anywhere else even by world music standards.
World music festivals do help preserve and promote local cultures from around the planet, affirmed Betham William-Jones from Welsh group Calan. Ethnic music is not just something taught in school or described in official documents.
In Taiwan, the government did not allow some tribes to use their own language. “Now kids ask their parents about how to sing our melodies,” said Camake Valuaule from the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe, Taiwan. “Traditional music is forever. We sing forever,” he affirmed.
“Traditional music need not sit in museums and archives, it can be made alive and contemporary,” said Alena Murang of Sarawak group Ilu Leto; RWMF gives such groups a chance to showcase their music to local as well as global audiences.
“With music you can change someone’s life. Welsh music saved my life,” said Huw Williams from Wales. “I actually wanted a normal job with a regular check, but due to mass employment in my youth I was forced to become a musician,” said Huw Williams from Wales. “I have been reduced to travelling the world and singing songs,” he joked.
Ironically, some world music bands are more known outside their home country than within. “We need people like you,” said Andile Makubalo from South African band Kelele. Overseas audiences and international festival appearances also help keep alive local music traditions and cultures.
Airlines should also be playing music on board from world music festivals, given how many international passengers they carry, joked Kevin Nila Nangai, communications manager at RWMF.
Times are changing. And yet, we still gaze backwards at ancient musical traditions and continue preserving the cultures of our lineages. In British Columbia, Canada, musicians from varying musical and religious traditions share an orchestra and stage. The musicians perform on modern European and traditional instruments from Asia, the Middle East and beyond. We can only wonder the types of non-musical conversations occur as the musicians exchange and share their backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences. They are a microcosm of how the world could become.
Recently, the recording, Mystics and Lovers crossed my path. The album featuring the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO) and Vancouver’s Laudate Singers (a chamber choir) bridges a large gap between the Islamic and Jewish worldviews via the exploration of ancient music and poetic or prayerful chants. Now, anyone who has listened to “world music” for several years, if not decades, has come across Sufi poetry performed by Iranian musicians and heard Jewish prayer songs and chants. We have heard fusion groups featuring songs from major religions. VICO goes beyond these scenarios in that you will find a Chinese zither player sitting next to a Middle Eastern dulcimer player.
Recently, as part of my new YouTube channel, Whole Music Experience, I interviewed Moshe Denburg who plays an integral role with VICO. In fact, he composed Ani Ma-amin (I Believe) which appears on the recording. It is based on the Jewish faith tradition. However, Denburg spoke of more than his composition or religious upbringing. I’m including the podcast of that appears on the Whole Music Experience channel. You can also find it on the Whole Music Experience blog.
Similar to VICO, I have a mission to unite musicians and musical practitioners (as in music therapists and sound healers, ethnomusicologists and researchers) to join together and usher in peace on the planet. I also have a Go Fund Me campaign to get the ball rolling. You can learn about this on my YouTube channel and blog.
Mr. L.S. Ramesh, a Post Graduate from the reputed Indian Institute of Technology-I.I.T. Madras has designed an innovative Carnatic Music chakra (Sri Saraswathi 72 Melakarta chakra) after more than six years of effort, to help anyone, children to elderly, without any music knowledge to very easily see, learn and play the Melakarta Ragas of Carnatic music, Western as well as Hindustani by using this unique chakra.
Most people feel Carnatic music and music in general, is beyond their grasp. I wanted to simplify the entire concept and show all the main ragas as a visual tool seeing which it becomes easy to identify with the entire genre of music. Carnatic music is the mother of all world music
Design of the Music Chakra
The 72 Melakarta (Main Ragas) have been neatly depicted in the form of a chakra (Wheel) wherein the ragas are clearly shown as ‘dots on an Octave of the keyboard’. Playing the dots on your keyboard will bring out the melody of the raga. Each dot represents a swara stana (Position of a note).
For Example, Mayamalavagaula-Melakarta Number 15 is depicted below:
Side one contains 36 Suddha Madhyama Ragas which are categorized under respective Chakra heads. For example Indu Chakra has 6 Melakarta Ragas Namely Kanakangi, Ratnangi ,Ganamurthi, Vanaspathi, Manavathi and Danarupi. Similarly other Chakras Netra, Agni ,Veda, Bana and Ruthu chakras with their respective Melakarta ragas are depicted with swara stanas as Dots.
This pattern of dots can be seen and played even by a novice to reveal the particular raga.
Side 2 has the remaining 36 Prathimadhyama Ragas depicted with chakra names Rishi, Vasu Brahma, Disi, Rudhra and Adithya with each chakra comprising 6 Melakarta Ragas each. For example Rishi chakra has the Melakartas from 37 to 42.
It is interesting to observe the following in the Music chakra:
1) As an example if we take Melakarta 29 (Dheerashankarabharanam) and add 36 to this, we get the corresponding Prathimadyama Melakarta raga (29+36=65) Mechakalyani which is very similar to Dheerashankarabharanam except for the MA note.
This helps students to quickly grasp the swara stanas and visualize the raga patterns.
2) The below table shows a comparative list of Carnatic, Hindustani and western scales
Use Of The Music Chakra To Help Children With Special Needs –Autism , Down’s Syndrome
Children with autism or Downs’s Syndrome are very good at identifying patterns and Music is a language they understand best.
Parents and teachers of special children can learn from this chakra and teach.
Research has shown how playing an instrument helps in brain development .When a person plays an instrument the left and right hemispheres of the brain get activated and the motor neurons become more active to help send or receive signals.
Mr. Ramesh conducts Lecture-demo and workshops for Schools, Colleges and corporates on “Music – What, How and Why To Play Music.”
There’s always a bit of a letdown when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around. Instead of celebrating a culture filled with the Celts’ vibrant art and mythology, grand writers and even grander musicians, I get goofy leprechaun graphics, cheap, green beer specials and dreadful Irish brogues hawking everything from Celtic-inspired party favors to get lucky sweepstakes.
The general theme, whether it is a car dealership sale or your local St. Patrick’s Day parade, seems to dictate everything be painted bright green, decorated with dippy looking leprechauns and the occasional fake pot of gold. Now, I’m okay with taking on faeries, because little people with wings flying around are just wrong. Get a fly swatter or a can of Raid because I’m pretty sure faeries are carriers or rabies or Lyme disease. Unfortunately, much of the music doesn’t get much better with cheap knockoffs of pub bands or the not quite Enya singers. The good news is that I can do a little something about music with a few suggestions for your St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Tara Music has re-released Fuaim by Clannad. Hailing from County Donegal in North West Ireland, this is the real deal in Celtic music. This reissue allows listeners to revisit Clannad’s early years and wallow in the goodness of “Na Buachailli Alainn,” “La Brea Fan Dtuath,” “Strayed Away” and “The Green Fields Of Gaothdobhair.”
Speaking of re-releases, Real World Records has pulled some goodies off the shelves for reissue like Peter Gabriel’s Big Blue Ball. Guess as the founder or Real World, Mr. Gabriel has got a fair amount of pull. While more of a world music fusion project than a strict Celtic recording, Big Blue Ball slips in some offerings like “Deep Forest,” “Rivers” and “Altus Silva” that are well worth snagging.
Pulling some other gems from the shelves Real World has reissued Anatomic, Seed, Volume 1: Sound System, Volume 2: Release, Volume 3: Further in Time, Capture 1995-2010 and Pod all from the Afro Celt Sound System catalog. Again, there’s a good deal of musical cross pollination with other genres, but don’t overlook tracks like “When I Still Needed You,” “Beautiful Rain,” “Mother,” “Drake,” “Seed,” “Nevermore,” “The Other Side,” “Colossus” and “Go on Through.” The Afro Celt Sound System sound remains timeless.
This Day Too: Music From Irish America by Terence, Michael and Jesse Winch has a friendly Irish bar feel. Out of the Washington, DC area, the Winch brothers get some help by way of fellow musicians and singers Patrick Armstrong, Tina Eck, Eileen Estes, Brian Gaffney, Conor Hearn, Seamus Kennedy, Nita Conley Korn, Zan McLeod, Brendan Mulvihill, Connor Murray, Dominick Murray and Madeline Waters. And just by the names, that’s a whole lot of Irish. This Day Too: Music from Irish America offers up tracks like “The Wonder Hornpipe/Austin Tierney’s/The Thunder Reel,” “Lally’s Alley/Cat’s Tail & Gravy,” “Earl’s Chair/The Green Groves of Erin/Sailor on the Rock” and “In Memory of Michael Coleman/Hughie’s Cap/Forget Me Not.”
Arc Music has put out Celtic Mystery with tracks by artists like Ron Korb, Altan, Noel McLoughlin and Golden Bough.
Real World Records has another reissue on tap this year with Martyn Bennett’s Grit. This was a stunning release and time hasn’t diminished it in any way. Fierce and explosive, Grit is razor-edged fusion that astonishes as much as it entertains. You should check out tracks like “Blackbird,” “Chanter,” “Why” and “Ale House.”
Looking for something on the sweetly folksy side, you might want to check out Midnite String Quartet’s Celtic Heartstrings out on the Roma Music Group label. There are some sweet string versions of “The Blood of Cu Chulainn,” “The Irish Rover” and “Carrickfergus.”
This year seems to be the year of the reissue and as luck would have it Robin Williamson’s Glint At The Kindling/Five Bardic Mysteries/Robin Williamson reissue is out this year. Tracks off the Glint at the Kindling featuring Mr. Williamson, as well as Sylvia Woods, Chris Caswell and Jerry McMillan or better known as the Merry Band and tracks from his 1985 spoken word release Five Bardic Mysteries sports such tracks as “The Road the Gypsies Go,” “The Woodcutter’s Song,” “Lough Foyle,” “The Dialogue of the Two Sages” and “Three Celtic Nature Poems.”
Golden Bough wraps up their sound in the goodness of Celtic harp, violin, accordion, mandolin, bouzouki, guitars, tin whistle and bodhran. Their offering Celtic Festival jaunty nod to St. Patrick’s Day.
If that’s not to your liking you could always check out Noel McLoughlin’s Song for Ireland is out on re-release.
As if The Dubliners needed any additional introduction, Arc Music has the goods on this Irish standard and has put out a special 2-CD set of The Dubliners with Luke Kelly. This compilation features such tracks as “Song for Ireland,” “The Sun is Burning,” “Free the People,” “Donegal Danny,” “Now I’m Easy,” “Whack Fol de Diddle” and “Irish Rover.”
Newfolk Records has put out Beoga’s Before We Change Our Mind and Tallymoore’s Drive for your listening pleasure. Either by single track or full recording, these two bands shouldn’t be overlooked.
Celtic music favorite Kila’s Kila Alive out and is a kick in the pants and will have dancing on the tabletops faster than the green beer special with offering like “Mutatu,” “Electric Landlady,” “Babymouse” and “Raise the Road.” If that weren’t incentive enough Alan Doherty is a guest on the recording.
Released in 2016 Deliverance by The Nordic Fiddlers Bloc is a stunning CD. Combining the fiddling traditions of Norway, Sweden and the Shetland Islands, Deliverance is simply spectacular with tracks like “Talons Trip to Thompson Island,” “Flinken” and “Da Scallowa Lasses/Lorna’s Reel” to snare your inner fiddler.
The clever Celtic band West of Mabou put out West of Mabou in December of 2016, but shouldn’t be overlooked. The group offer up jaunty numbers like “Rannie MacLellan,” “The Foxhunter,” “Slip Jigs” and a plummy “Temperance Reel/Devil’s Dream.”
For you hard rocking Celtic fans The Rumjacks’ latest release Sleepin’ Rough was release last year, but you might want to check your local music scene because the band is on tour in the US in March and April.
Finally, there is the double CD/DVD set Affinity by Atlas. Lovely and atmospheric, Affinity is a lushly masterful collection of music by guitarist Cillian Doheny and concertina player Cillian King with fellow musicians Maria Ryan, Lucia Mac Partlin, Sean Warren, Michael Shimmin and Nicky Scott.. Don’t miss this one.
Should you find yourself sitting in a bar somewhere wearing a cheesy shamrock hat, surrounded by paper leprechauns and drinking green beer while listening to a Celtic Goth band murder “Whiskey in the Jar,” just remember that the Celtic spirit takes many forms. And, if approached by faeries grab a shoe!
January 6-10 in New York City marked the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) 60th Anniversary celebration as the world’s leading global performing arts gathering, marketplace, and members conference. Over 45,000 performing arts professionals and enthusiasts come together to experience and participate in the city-wide conference event. 36 countries were represented among hundreds of international registrants.
They were over 1,500 city-wide showcases and full-length performances, public programs, keynote speakers and plenaries, a giant Expo Hall at the Hilton with close to 400 exhibitors, and professional development and networking opportunities, all representative of a vast and diverse industry, nationally and internationally. It never ceases to amaze how many vibrant APAP-related events spring to life all over the city over a few days.
On a much graver note, the APAP conference coincided with the current period of precarious political uncertainty in America. The incumbent administration’s policies and actions in this country encourage and promote racial, ethnic, and religious bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, isolationism and nationalism. To help counter those hatreds and fears, those proposed physical and metaphoric walls and borders, those denials of human rights, freedom of artistic expression will be a powerful, symbolic force in the coming years. Its survival is vital in the presenting communities here and abroad. Also, at this pivotal moment and at no other time in recent history has the need for arts advocacy been more urgent, especially as proposed draconian budget cuts include the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
APAP president and CEO Mario Garcia Durham is a reassuring presence in spite of all peril:
We are here to help our members navigate and ‘FLOW through” the transition of governments locally, nationally and internationally by offering support and tips for educating and briefing new officials about the importance the performing arts play in every community and in society as a whole. We’ll do what we always do, while also looking for more opportunities to bring additional audiences and artists into the performing arts, providing a platform for performing arts professionals to engage in discussions and solutions around pressing current issues such as cultural conflict, social justice and overcoming the challenges of equity, access and inclusion. Art organizations are leading in a time politically that requires a continual flow of thoughtfulness, planning and action to ensure creativity, relevance and sustainability.”
For the internationalist, world-oriented mind, APAP has inspired, supported, and promoted at least 3 key annual events for more than a decade. Wavelengths – the APAP World Music Preconference session, and two showcase festivals, globalFEST and Winter Jazzfest. The values mutually inherent in the 3 events uphold diversity, inclusiveness, and respect for global cultural ecologies. They are the antithesis of political developments in Washington today.
For the past several years Dmitri Vietze, the founder and CEO of the public relations firm Rock Paper Scissors, has produced the APAP World Music Preconference, the largest gathering of world music professionals in the U.S. This is the second year the firm organized this “mini-conference” together with globalFEST, under the newly branded title Wavelengths. Tristra Yeager with Rock Paper Scissors and Nicole Merritt Chari with globalFEST are the co-organizers. Creative entrepreneurship thrives here.
All the latest developments in the music industry affecting the world music field can be heard about and delved into here through panel discussions and topical focus. Industry leaders, thinkers, record producers, presenters, agents, managers, artists, all throng to this free 2 day public event. Wavelengths is always populated with seasoned pros who excel in entrepreneurial knowledge and who have helped shape better understanding of the rapidly shifting forces in the music industry. Technology and monetization of cultural expressions are given frequent focus.
The pace of the preconference was measured, the spirit upbeat. Among this year’s topics were: Breaking Into/Navigating the U.S. Market, Global Music Trends, What Works in Live Performance Videos, Sustaining the World’s Music Traditions, Strengthening Our Global Music Ecosystem, and Global Market Spotlight on India, Mexico, and Morocco.
Meklit Hadero, Ethiopian-American singer, composer, cultural activist, and Ted Fellow delivered the rousing and timely keynote talk: “Re-thinking the We: World Music, Cultural Activism, and Global Citizenship in 2017”. Fiercely optimistic, Hadero draws her sustenance from her rich, “hyphenated” identity. She noted that 2042 signifies a year of predominant racial mixes in this country’s population. “2042 is the year America becomes a majority minority,” she affirmed.
She sees the American story as a global story, an immigrant story of interdependent identity, and the theme of her new upcoming cd. “Out of many, we are one, we are responsible for all as cultural activists.” Meklit’s talk rings loud and clear in opposition to Washington’s current supremacist, divisive fears.
One of the most important aspects of Wavelengths is the networking opportunity for world music professionals and artists. It’s the time to catch up with colleagues from all parts of North America and beyond. Communities come together in solidarity. In Part II meet 5 Wavelengths attendees from different regions in the U.S. who share their APAP impressions for this year: Tristra Yeager (Indiana), Ismael Ahmed (Michigan), Mark de Clive-Lowe (Los Angeles), Birane Sarr (New York), and Diana Ezerins (Washington): “Wavelengths Voices of Courage, Hope, Resilience.”
For its 14th season, globalFEST delivered another fascinating showcase of the world’s sounds, from celebratory traditional styles to sophisticated abstractions. The producers’ challenge is formidable: to represent contrasts in genres and geographies, always mindful of quality.
While it’s always been a struggle to navigate official restrictions and policies concerning international artists’ visas – now with even more hurdles and challenges on the horizon in the U.S. – globalFEST manages to introduce global crowd-pleasers for diverse tastes and venues – for stadiums and festivals to more intimate performing arts spaces. 12 overlapping acts on 3 stage floors at Webster Hall over 5 hours in one evening. It was high-spirited, exhausting fun ending on the stroke of midnight, only to be followed by the Joe’s Pub globalFEST afterparty with a live performance by Red Baraat.
Among the many, there were two contrasts in styles bridging the traditional and the modern. On the more traditional side, Cuba’s classic Septeto Santiaguero and the Afro-Venezuelan singer Betsayda y La Parranda El Clavo from the Americas along with the Congo’s Afrisa International were strong examples of what American audiences love. Septeto Santiaguero, winner of the 2015 Latin Grammy for Best Traditional Tropical Album, honed its mighty “sabroso” sound at Santiago de Cuba’s famous nightclub Casa de la Trova. The Webster Hall ballroom floor was an ocean of happy, swinging dancers as this crisp, tightly rehearsed band rolled forth its son-montuno repertoire with syncopated call and response phrasings with vocals, brilliant horns, guitars, and peppery percussion.
Betsayda y La Parranda El Clavo jammed the middle Marlin Room with an opening procession of singers and drummers winding through the packed crowds. No Western instrumentation, just voices, hand drums and percussive textures were fulsome enough musical accompaniment for this joyous group. Led by Betsayda Machado with her commanding vocals, the group’s infectious stage presence caught up all in the wild frenzy of a Afro-Latin village celebration of dance and song. Some of the rhythms seemed imbued with syncretic spiritual ritual. Betsayda’s African root rhythms syncopated with Latin beats elevate her music to levels worthy of Alan Lomax.
Although there were hopes to see Mbilia Bel, the superb, beautiful Congolese singer from the 80s and 90s and “Queen of African Rumba” with one of Congo’s greatest bands, L’Orchestre Afrisa International founded by Tabu Ley Rochereau in 1970, she didn’t manage to make the gig. However, the group went beyond expectations and held its own with gloriously seductive, sinuous soukous rhythms. With the enduring marvel Nseka Huit-Kilos on sparkling lead guitar, Miz Blandine, singer and dancer, carried on her idol Mbilia Bel’s tradition, backing the band with veteran Afrisa singers, Dodo Munoko and Wawali Bonane. Afrisa International proved to be more than a revival with its vibrant freshness.
There were three intriguing globalFEST 2017 standouts that I like to think of as “modernists.” Estonia’s Maarja Nuut, Ghana’s Jojo Abot, and Korea’s Ssing Ssing, spanning three continents amazingly enough. They create and shape unusual resonances with older form references.
Cerebral tunings and cyclical modular harmonies based on old village tunes filled Maarja Nuut’s performance. The fiddler singer seemed to make soundscapes for suspenseful fairytales or village jigs in a far off forest land. Pedal loops and electronica expanded, abstracted, and layered the larger haunting sound. Hers was the intimacy of an art gallery experience with barest hints of symphonic elegance à la Philip Glass.
Jojo Abot is a sleek performance artist with Fela on her mind. She wore a silver lavender wig and a long white minimalist gown with silver face paint. She had the persona of a futuristic African cult goddess. Her stage was filled with red balloon props. Electronic echoes with reggae dub vibes gave her sung and spoken word toasting style an otherworldly spacey dimension as she hopped off the Studio Room stage to mingle with the crowds. Her lyrics and feral presence hail self-empowerment. Her band is impressive, sometimes with a slow West African highlife feel.
Ssing Ssing was a layered surprise musically and visually. There is the immediate spoof-like look of the band. Wearing American flag colored wigs, red, white and blue, two of the sassy lead singers were in drag while the third, a woman. Wearing flashy costumes, they rocked old romantic Korean folk tunes with high disco energies. The gender twist has references to traditional shamanism, where the female and male transform into genderless, healing spirit. The Studio Room was jumping.
Thanks again to APAP’s abiding support, the city hosted another edition of the eagerly anticipated Winter Jazzfest (WJF). The producers literally take over the entire range of west to east village music venues, all within relative walking distance. This year’s 12 venues were a ‘moveable feast’ over six days with over 150 acts and 600 musicians. For the first time in 13 years, the festival took on a theme: social justice.
“The 2017 NYC Winter Jazzfest explicitly supports social and racial justice by presenting 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, the American Civil Liberties Union, and seek to address issues of discrimination, police brutality, abuse of power, xenophobia, sexual and gender discrimination, that are all threatening to become more deeply institutionalized in the coming administration.
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.” – Winter Jazzfest Program Notes
Club-hopping during the WJF Marathon Friday and Saturday evenings is part of the sampling challenge, and the programming was exhaustive and… exhausting. Straight-ahead jazz to experimental and international, there’s incredible innovation taking place now on the downtown jazz scene. What’s consistently impressive each year is the number of younger musicians, international and local, programmed with well-established stars.
Out of many, here are some of the marathon showcases I liked. Two emerging international artists and 4 masters.
Cuba’s Dayme Arocena is a gifted young singer with a bubbly personality and instant crowd appeal. After seeing her happy Le Poisson Rouge showcase at WJF, I feel the same about her new recording Cubafonia. I really enjoy her Afro-Cuban rumba and the deep spirituality in her Santeria songs where she excels. When she dips into English lyrics with her forays into neo-soul, the rhythmic language disconnect from her natural strengths – Cuban Spanish or Yoruban rhythms – makes the music almost inaccessible. Yet she represents all of the newer trends among younger Cuban musicians and shifts easily between jazz idioms, soul with light-hearted passion, and guaguancó dance rhythms.
Shabaka and the Ancestors is a collaboration between the Barbadian-British saxophonist, composer, and band leader, Shabaka Hutchings, and some of South Africa’s exceptional jazz musicians. Their recent album Wisdom of the Elders gained enough praise to warrant group touring. There were strong open-ended stylistic synergies at Le Poisson Rouge between Shabaka’s American references, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Coltrane, for example, along with his Afro-Caribbean identity – and Johannesburg’s younger jazz players steeped in the country’s long historical path of spiritual resistance against racial and class oppression. “We need new hymns, we need new songs,” intoned singer Siyabonga Mthembu. The group could not have debuted in New York at a more meaningful moment. Their music reflected past struggles for social justice, omens perhaps for the present.
Winter Jazzfest is known increasingly for attracting jazz masters. There are rare opportunities to catch their brief live performances without too much formality within a few days.
The last 25 minutes of pianist, composer, and arranger Uri Caine’s hour long set at the New School was a treat. Known for his contemporary reimaginings of classical composers through jazz improvisations, whether Mozart, Bach, Schumann or Mahler, Uri Caine is a dazzling piano phenomenon. With back to audience in a quartet with trumpet, bass, and drums, his music revealed a merry soul. He’s riveting to watch play. In the last song, Green Dolphin Street, Caine’s muscular chromaticisms and spidery keyboard dexterity rivaled a complex Czerny piece with nods to the elegance of Duke Ellington swing.
The ECM Stage underscored its reputation as a venerable label. This was ECM’s second year as a label showcase presenter at the New School’s wonderful Tishman Auditorium. The music listening was so good I stayed for 3 hours, I caught just the end of the set by Ravi Coltrane – sax and David Virelles – piano, an early intro to their upcoming album as a duo. The last two songs I heard showed the flash and fire of their combined prowess. Cascades of sound towards end of “Leo” mirrored the restless fervor of these two artists. They finished with “Lush Life” by Billy Strayhorn to waves of applause. (“In Movement” with Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane, and Matthew Garrison is up for a Grammy. The version of “Alabama” is pretty extraordinary, as is the rest of the album.)
Guitarist Bill Frisell with Thomas Morgan on electric bass will also have a new ECM release soon. The live experience of Bill Frisell was like a meeting with an eloquent friend who offered intimate glimpses into his world. The luminous lyricism in his tonalities, the transparency of his emotions, are incomparable. By the time the hall was ringing with an American repertoire including Fats Domino’s “What a Party, “Mumbo Jumbo” by Paul Motian, and “Subconscious-Lee” by Lee Konitz, he settled into a long train of musical thought, Motian’s “It should have happened a long time ago.” As I listened to the duo’s gently modulated phrasings and octaval reflections, it occurred to me that Frisell truly “makes” music, he just doesn’t play a song, such the sense of wonder he conveys.
The final showcase concert for the night seemed like one long mysterious song by the Swiss pianist, composer, and producer Nik Bärtsch. “Continuum” featured Bärtsch’s acoustic group’s most recent album Mobile. The group is known by the same title name. The recording and the performance are a study in contrapuntal modular pieces that allow the tightly locked quartet of players – bass and contrabass clarinet, two drummer-percussionists – to explore Bärtsch’s piano phrasings and cues. With metronomic precision, the performance built slow, trance-like ostinatos towards explosive polyrhythmic jazz funk intensities. The element of performance art lay in shifts of lighting sequences throughout the overlapping cycles. Darkness and chiaroscuro light and shadow dramatized finessed subtleties and suspensefulness in the calibrated passages. The set lasted for about an hour. Mobile is known to perform for 36 hours straight.
There is comfort and sanctuary in music and the performing arts, the power to celebrate and uphold the planet’s diversities, the way to justice and beauty, the universal goodness of life. It’s worth fighting for.
Wavelengths Interview Excerpts
Voices of Courage, Hope, Resilience
Tristra Yeager, Wavelengths: APAP World Music Pre-conference Co-Organizer and And Head Writer with Rock Paper Scissors
Wavelengths is a great way for artists and professionals new to the field to meet kindred spirits and potential allies. We try to create a little community within the larger madcap world of APAP. The conference has so much great stuff going on, it can feel overwhelming. So I like to think we provide a harbor for people looking to connect around global music, as well as a portal to the wider performing arts
My colleagues at globalFEST and I put our heads together and try to look critically at the issues that are affecting artists and the presenters who love them. We try to think of ways to do more than have abstract conversations, but also give concrete ideas and tools for people to consider. One of my dreams is for our community and all its stakeholders to come together and see how their interests align. It would be great to build capacity and find new sustainable ways to work together, for the good of all, fans, musicians, presenters and pros alike.
We like to bring in globalFEST artists with expertise in particular areas to speak to those skills and experiences. We also try to make sure what we do works toward globalFEST’s mission of expanding and enriching international music opportunities in our market.
From the artist perspective, I see the objective is to make musicians’ professional, business lives easier. It’s hard to sort through all the possibilities or take advantage of all the platforms and ideas that *might* work. Moreover, there is so little advice that applies specifically to people making music “from elsewhere,” people who may be combining traditions or genres or practices, people who have hybrid lives and thus hybrid work. The context and deeper meaning or message in this work is so important, and I think most of us agree about that. That said, it’s not easy to figure out exactly how to harmonize message and business goals. I think it can be done, but it requires a lot of knowledge and reflection. I hope we help facilitate that.
From the presenter perspective, we want to make connections with new artists and forms, as well as hear their concerns and needs. University performing arts centers, forward-thinking venues like Yerba Buena or the Cedar in Minneapolis, and the eclectic and world music festivals all have their own approaches, but there’s a lot that’s shared. We strive to provide a platform when those commonalities and struggles can be discussed openly and productively.
In short, we want a stronger ecosystem for global music. We want everyone to get to hear the world’s music, to open people’s minds to the world via their ears.
This is my 15th or 20th APAP conference and I even served a while back on the board. I feel the conference continues to become more and more diverse both in terms of the kinds of people and the ideas that people bring to the conference. I really like the world music pre-conference and other kinds of things that go on. Just the opportunity to meet with people I don’t see every day but share many of the same ideas. APAP is a great conference and it’s also taking place at a pivotal time, especially given the promises of the Trump administration. I am, like a lot of people, apprehensive as I watch the choices for cabinet ministers and advisors. I really think the president-elect intends to do many of the things he talked about. And many people say, “Well, why don’t you just wait and see?” I don’t believe that’s a wise way to conduct ourselves given the severity of many of the things.
I’m an Arab and a Muslim and, you know, he talked about creating a secret police for Arabs and Muslims. He talked about registering Muslims. Those are really scary things and I think there are a series of ideas out there that I worry about. What will the future of the arts be? In this kind of administration? But more importantly than the negative is the positive.
The arts have always played a pivotal role in building consciousness in this nation and in this world, and in our history. So I look to many of the artists and activists that are here to be a part of whatever solutions, whatever resistance, whatever ideas, to move forward into the society. We’re probably meeting at one of the most pivotal times in American history, and it’s enjoyable to me to walk around and talk to creative, intelligent people who share those concerns and want to figure out what that means. What does that mean for their art? What does that mean for their communities? What does that mean for their lives?
So in addition to being here for APAP I’m also here talking to different progressive groups and trying to bring them together around the country, to try and get us out of our silence. Again the arts plays an important role here: it brings people out of their silence, it brings people together, and so I’m just enjoying talking to people and the facilitation that’s taken place for us to be able to do that.
I’m also here as a presenter. This is the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots. Or the Detroit Rebellion. So our full festival will be about that. The Concert of Colors in Detroit. In addition most of the major arts organizations in the city will be collaborating with us for the festival so I’m trying to look at presentations that talk about the concerns of the day, that talk about the Civil Rights Movement, that talk about our future. So it’s been an interesting set of visits to agents and artists, and just the meetings we’ve had with that in mind as well. Then there’s just the beauty of being with so many creative, capable people.
On Resistance, Artistic Expressions, Presenter’s Responsibilities
I think resistance takes many, many forms, and certainly the resistance of ideas and creation as a key part of that. Standing up to attempts to defund the arts which I probably expect will happen. Standing up to the attempts to censor the arts. Also encouraging others to use their art to inform, educate, and yes, resist whatever comes forward.
I don’t underestimate the power of the arts to move people, to educate people. And I think that it’s usually underestimated. There’s a reason why tens of thousands of people will go to a stadium to listen to some music that may in fact have the same message as a politician. There’s real power in culture, especially progressive culture. While it’s certainly not a silver bullet, it’s the important element of what has to happen in this world, whether it’s this administration or any other.
Well, I think it will be varied [forthcoming artistic expressions}. You know, it’s always been varied, but artists have always kind of lead the way in social movements. As things become more difficult in the world, not just politically but in terms of many of the negative outcomes that we’re looking at in the future, I thinks artists will stand up to that. It’s normal. And they may stand up in very different ways. Some of them will just create their own beauty. And others will be much more direct. Generally in periods like this, they tend to be more direct and certainly I encourage that. As a presenter I try and book people who have something to say.
Presenters are responsible to the communities that they present in. To put forward not only beauty but forward ideas. I would not be a good presenter if I just chose to ignore all that goes on around me. We all need to be conscious, whether as artists or human beings. I want to present conscious art.
APAP should be a broad representation of the people across the country where ideas are shared. One of the ideas APAP is built on is working toward diversity. I think it believes it is an organization that champions the rights of people, people of color, and others – working people. That’s kind of at the lowest level and that’s wonderful. We shouldn’t be asking them more than that. They should decide what they want to do.
I’ve watched over the years, their selection of key artists, their selection of workshops, to give opportunity for all of us to grow in our relationships, our consciousness, our work together. That’s the positive thing, something that’s needed. Where you go from there depends on your commitment to your communities.
The one thing APAP doesn’t do well still, is assure that artists and presenters and agencies think about what their responsibility is to their communities. And that’s a hard thing to do because you don’t want to question the freedom of all those people. But we are responsible for each other, for our communities, and for the world. And I think we could do better as far as education about that. Artists too have responsibilities. I know some people think, “do what you do” and “that’s that” as long as you’re creative, but from my point of view, we’re responsible to all those around us, we live in a living world and so we have to respond to that.
Mark de Clive-Lowe, Pianist, Composer, Producer and Electronic Artist
This year was my first time at APAP. I attended the Wavelengths pre-conference days and globaFEST but not the full conference – but it was plenty to give me insight into the community and ideas behind the conference as well as plenty of inspiration to take away. Wavelengths was a continuous stream of insightful conversations and panels. Most of all though, the opportunity to meet and idea share with open minded creatives was truly special. Coming from the jazz and electronic worlds, the open mindedness and community spirit in everyone I met was enlightening – no pretense and none of the elitism that mars other more homogenous music genres.
I’ve been surrounded by world music in one form or another for a long time but often it was as a flavor added to a setting where jazz was still the main focus. Over the Wavelengths two days though, so many ideas came to mind for me with realizations of how i can contribute my musical voice to this community and contribute to the seemingly open-ended exploration of our planet’s music and creative cultures.
As a Japanese-New Zealander and having resided at length on four different continents, I’ve sometimes been at a loss as to how to share my own story through my music – now there’s fresh ideas for that, thanks in large to the many conversations and interactions over those days. globalFEST was a great way to wrap up the weekend – seeing a lot of the ideas we talked about in action on the Webster Hall stages. By far the most impactful for me was Betsayda Machado y La Parranda El Clavo. With nothing more than drums and voices, the band had us all spellbound and transported us deep into their history, culture and story. Inspiring stuff to say the least!
Thanks to APAP, now a lot of people are coming to know New African Production. I’ve been in the African music business since 2000 and am based in New Jersey. Over the years we’ve done a lot of shows here in New York with Joe’s Pub, SOB’s, and others in Manhattan and Harlem. For the past 3 years we’ve been an APAP exhibitor working to expose the African artists I work with. I feel APAP is the best way to promote and market our New Generation African Collective to world music presenters. For the past couple of years we’ve been touring the young Senegalese New Generation Collective here in the U.S. and Europe – like Pape Diouf and Aida Samb. Last year we brought Pape Diouf to 16 stages, including those within the Senegalese local communities. During APAP we aim to expose the Senegalese culture and help the artists to develop their career in the world music arena.
To create your business in this country, it’s better to take things step by step and build your credibility through an APAP presence. I have learned that it is very important to start here. Every year for the past 3 years we’ve been promoting what we have, doing the shopping and marketing, and contacting the presenters. We know it takes time, but we’re on our way. The rest, we leave it to God.
What I see here with the presenters is a preference for the old school, not discovery of the younger generation. The new generation, unlike their elders, have studied and learned the music at the conservatory in Senegal. They’re great musicians, but people are always asking me about Koffi Olomide, Baaba Maal, Youssou N’Dour, who have long been established in the markets here. However, when we brought Pape Diouf last year, all the concerts were sold out. At any festival we did from Madison, Wisconsin to Schenectady, Chicago, Atlanta, we gained thousands of new fans.
APAP is vital if you want to be in this business and you want to be part of world music. Here meeting new presenters in person is important. Because sometimes if you send out email they’re not going to open your email. But when you exhibit here, people are going to know who you are. Our goal is long-term relations. We know we have the best young talent and we want to take it step by step to get what we want tomorrow. It’s very important for New African Production to be present here every year, as well as at WOMEX, for example.
When I started here, I understood why other African promoters didn’t participate in APAP. They only give focus to their own local communities as their markets, mainly because 65 % of artists they bring here are not known to the larger world music fan base. Our market goals are much larger, diversified, and broader. We aim to build careers for our artists. Making money is not the priority. We love to share our music, our culture. When we built this company 16 years ago, our main goal was to create cultural exchange, learn a lot, expose the best of the younger generation, and this has not changed.
A lot of people don’t know what’s going on in African culture. They don’t take advantage of a Google check to see what’s out there, who’s there after Youssou N’Dour and others. Who’s Pape Diouf? How long has he been in the market? Who’s Wally Seck? Aida Samb? 65% of the younger generation born in 80s studied music, they can play any instrument. They read music, yet understand their own notations, tunings. Many musicians before them couldn’t read music, but if you give this younger generation any score, they can play it. Ask young Senegalese such as Alioune Wade to play with Marcus Miller, they can do it.
The investment decision to exhibit at APAP is mine, it’s my own money. I never have any help from the Senegalese government. As a patriot, all I wish to do is to help the careers of young musicians because I love the music. Yes, the business is gradually coming in now. When we bring the artists to the U.S., we always take care of their accommodation, sometimes in my own house, and their transportation. Fortunately at the outset, artists are not focused on money. They’re looking at their career and are willing to make the sacrifice to break through.
I haven’t totally mastered APAP, but step by step, I’ll get there. It takes time as the only African exhibitor at APAP who exposes young talent, relatively unknown in these markets. That’s very tough. When you have a big name, everyone knows the artist, but when you have young talent, you have to work much harder. Presenters have to trust your taste, your judgment. They come to love our artists, they buy, they try, and the next year they’re going to call you again.
One thing I feel APAP could do better is their orientation for new exhibitors, such as usage of their database. When I first came no one helped me. Based in NYC for 20 years and sixteen years focused on this business, I have come to know a lot of people. I attended APAP for 7 years as a visitor earlier on, just to check it out. I’ve had three artists at globalFEST – Fallou Dieng, Meta and the Cornerstones, and Yoro N’Diaye, long before my exhibition booth here. It’s been easier for me because I came to study and learn for 7 years. Now it’s been 10 years that I’ve been coming to APAP. After the 2nd year, I understood the process a lot more. Set-up, logging in to APAP and downloading the list of people you want to work with and meet.
I’ve been very happy to be here for the past 3 years. It’s a learning process and it’s very tough. I hope for next year, a lot of young African promoters will see what I’m doing and become inspired, use me as a role model. I’m not building my name, I’m building my company, New African Production. Our main focus is not on the money, but on what we love, to help the artists build their careers and share our culture.
Millennium Stage / Performing Arts for Everyone / Community Engagement
I curate the programming for the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, a daily, free performance series. We host an audience averaging 350 people a night, and serve an online audience via simulcast on our website, Facebook live, and YouTube. Twenty years ago, the series was created to make the arts as accessible as possible without financial or geographical barriers. It has evolved into a space to feature regional, national, and international talent and represent the breadth and depth of culture in society.
We strive to democratize our programming practice by identifying collaborators of varying types – artists, activists, educators, youth, embassies, organizations, other presenters, etc. – in a co-curation process that allows for wildly more input from more voices, and results in an expanding audience more representative of society as a whole.
Communities of practice are able to self select and address the needs and desires of their audience. I often think of myself as a Park Ranger with the goal of ensuring the Kennedy Center showcases all artistic styles and assists in fostering multicultural understanding in a space that allows audiences to learn, and a multitude of art forms to be celebrated on a national platform.
APAP to me
The Arts Professionals* Conference has always been an exciting and important start to the year. Gathering with our colleagues to bond over music and discuss the challenges and successes of the previous twelve months is crucial to our collective evolution as a field, and as a nation. It is also a great joy.
I am not sure how long APAP has utilized a team to curate the panels, discussions, and presentations for the conference. I can say that this year, I noticed their efforts to embrace the vibrant community in the process, and I was grateful to the team for what they created.
The first event I attended was part of the Globalfest + Rock Paper Scissors Wavelengths sessions, a lecture by Meklit Hadero. Her presentation, Hope and Cultural Activism, set the stage for the rest of the weekend, as well as the role of our field as we advance into the future. Themes centered around global citizenship, embracing the entirety of our American identity, and the grandeur of the truly universally encompassing and dynamic “WE”. She concluded her talk with a bow of positivity highlighting wins and successes over the last year, such as the people gathering together to challenge the course of the Dakota Pipeline.
During another panel, our leaders borrowed from methods of the tech world to have the themes of the discussion informed by those in the room. We were all encouraged to write down a topic of interest on a post-it, present it to the group as a whole, and the eight conversation topics that garnered the most traction would be explored in the four corners of the room in two, thirty-minute mini-sessions.
I love group activities and participatory input to determine the collective outcome. Panels often get bogged down by having too many speakers using a big chunk of time for introductions to their backgrounds, then to the topic, resulting in a beginning level session that runs over before the conversations achieve any depth. This method was a great way to address the mixed needs in a room of music presenters and artists, and allow this group of 100+ experts in their own right the opportunity to participate. (Have you picked up on my theme, yet?)
A topic weighing heavily on my mind since the election has been how we in the arts sector can contribute to the challenges facing our country. Like wolves, humans are pack animals by nature, and we are drawn to those with shared values out of our need for survival. We leave our city for a short respite in the country, or on our way to a gig in another highly populated town, and we are reminded of the differences between ours and the world between cities (and vice versa).
As the group presented their topics, a girl before me in line announced her interest: “Breaking Out of the Bubble.” Egad, those were the very same words I wrote down on my post-it, and the same that had been shared over and over by the media in the weeks following the election. Of course, everyone is thinking about this very same thing! I approached the microphone and excitedly declared that I, too, am eager to discuss how we can break out of the bubble.
Common words do not equal a common language. My mistake was twofold – a lack of clarity coupled with my egocentric assumption. A lot of those who gathered in my circle came to explore my version of the bubble. The girl wanted to discuss networking, and how an artist can reach new people to book her band. We all ended up helping her to the best of our ability, and we did not discuss the role of the arts in society or how we can create opportunities to deepen appreciation and understanding in a country of polarized people. Mistakes made, but lesson learned – one must use a great deal of care when selecting words.
How can our sentences be crafted to optimize clarity in pursuit of our desired result? We can fight over the existence of climate change, or focus conversation on the need for environmental preservation, or the impact pollution has on our health, etc. If assumptions must be made, it is in our better interest to assume good intent and seek opportunities for teaching/learning instead of winning/losing. Don’t forget there are corporations profiting over pitting sides against each other.
While the daytime sessions and conversations are great, my favorite part of APAP is always nighttime. Ever since I was in elementary school clinging to my brown fischer price radio on weekend mornings listening to Casey Kasem, music has always been my breath and heartbeat, and my desire to hear something new and different is unquenchable. Additionally, I love an adventure.
As such, Winter Jazzfest and Globalfest are both heaven for me. With each, I get to wander, explore, and discover. It’s like traveling through a musical Wonkavator time machine – we visit the past, present, and future in all corners of the globe, and reflect on society as we experience this world of sound. Best of all, I get to share those discoveries with audiences in D.C. at the nation’s performing arts center. I am so grateful to my colleagues who organize those events.
I was also on a personal quest during this year’s APAP, and it relates to my own, individual bubble. Our field is becoming more accepting of the notion that there are many experts, and that none of us can really be the knower of all. Curation by one has been the standard approach. The approach of my department within the Kennedy Center is different. Ours is a curation by we. It can be sloppy, and take longer than an individual making all the decisions. I also tend to exist primarily within the APAP music circuit. On the train to New York, I thought this over, and told myself to focus this year on expanding my reach.
Another panel I attended was called, Disrupting the Flow: Leadership and Creativity. One of the first sentences uttered during the panel was something like, “who suffers from disruption and innovation? We/artists are rabid disruptors.” I was in the right place. This panel also included a breakout session for deeper discussion, led by some of this year’s APAP fellows. I followed the fellow who seemed to have a calmest, wisest demeanor, who turned out to be Tiffany Rea-Fisher. She led a difficult and therapeutic conversation centered around the struggles of those in the room. Funding, our collective necessary evil, was a big topic. Afterwards, Tiffany was kind enough to spare a few extra minutes for a chat about the fellowship and all she has gained through the experience.
In the final event, Taylor Mac’s closing statement to us all, he implored us to cultivate and encourage participation, embrace calamity, and delight in the possibilities. He dared us to defy vulnerability and fear, and begged the presenting world to stop suffocating the work of minorities by stuffing it into the black box.
It is no secret that our country is divided, and it didn’t start with the election. We need to participate in difficult conversations, and be brave enough to do so with people who do not agree with us. We as arts leaders need to recognize our role (and privilege) in this process.
Throughout the conference, I was happy to see dialogue that centered around active participation, explored presenting arts and culture in a pluralist yet inclusive country, and celebrating that variance is normal. I hope many walked away eager and inspired to continue these conversations in their own communities at their own organizations, or at the very least, to present artists that reflect the vibrancy of our world.
The annual Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), held every January in Rajasthan, is widely regarded as one of India’s best literary events, and indeed one of the world’s largest free events of its kind (see my compilation of 75 Inspiring Quotes from the 2017 edition). It’s not just the established and emerging authors that are a popular draw, but also the celebration of art and music that have become major attractions at the five-day event.
The music lineup at the 10th edition of the festival featured a range of artistes at three locations: the festival venue Diggi Palace in the mornings, an evening heritage showcase at Amber Fort, and night-time performances in the lawns of Hotel Clarks Amer.
The first musical performance was by the Shillong Chamber Choir from Northeast India. The choir covers everything from Indian cinema to opera. “It’s not music that is the difficult part. It is sticking together that takes effort,” explained lead singer William Richmond Basaiawmoit in an interview.
The evening performances kicked off with a high-energy set by Rajasthan Josh, a folk band performing a wide range of traditions of the north-western region of India. Featured instruments included the morchang, bhapang, khartaal, double flute, and nagada, performed in traditional bhajans as well as mystic Sufi Rajasthani compositions. The colorful folk dances on the superbly-designed stage also drew loud applause.
The second band to take the outdoor stage on the chilly night was Kabir Café, who play a genre called Kabir Rock, derived from the teachings and music of the 15th-century Indian mystic poet and saint Kabir. The lineup includes Neeraj Arya (vocals, guitar), Mukund Ramaswamy (violin), Viren Solanki (percussion) and Raman Iyer (mandolin). The messages of devotion, tolerance and inner faith, set to contemporary rhythms, resonated well with the audience at the literature festival.
The morning of Day Two kicked off with a performance at the lit-fest venue by Swanand Kirkire (Hindi singer and lyricist) and Ankur Tewari (Bollywood lyricist and composer). The evening highlight at the scenic Amber Fort was sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. The sarod has been derived by modifying the ancient folk instrument of Iran, rabab. Khan also has a wide range of collaborations with Western classical musicians, and his legacy carries on with his two sons, Amaan and Ayaan, themselves accomplished sarod artistes.
The night-time performances kicked off with Bombay Bassment, with the sounds of hip-hop, reggae, funk, and drum & bass. The members include drummer Levin Mendes and bassist Ruell Barretto, along with Kenyan rapper Robert Omulo (aka Bobkat) and Chandrashekhar Kunder aka Major C, a DJ. Their first album was released in 2014, and the band has performed across India as well as at the Glastonbury Festival and the Reunion Kaloobang Festival.
The final act on Friday night was Inna Modja, a singer-songwriter from Mali. Her hit songs include ‘Mister H’, ‘French Cancan’ and ‘La Fille du Lido.’ The performance blended Motown soul, Sahel desert blues, Mandinka guitars, a Fula flute, and kora.
The Saturday morning vocal performance featured Padmini Rao, exponent of the Kirana Gharana form of North Indian classical music. Rao is a senior disciple of renowned singer Dr. Prabha Atre, and also studied under the guidance of the late Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Khan Dagar.
The evening show kicked off with the melodic combination of Beth Orton and Sam Amidon.
Beth Orton is a singer-songwriter from the UK who has released six acclaimed albums, including Kidsticks. Sam Amidon is a singer/banjoist/guitarist from Vermont, with five albums to his credit (the latest is Lily-O). To the audience’s delight, folk band Rajasthan Josh also joined them for a memorable collaboration at the end, and Western folk harmonics smoothly blended with Rajasthani folk and dance to a rousing crescendo.
Top Indian blues band Soulmate wrapped up the Saturday night showcase, with a sizzling set of vocals and guitar. The quartet was formed in Shillong in 2003 by guitarist Rudy Wallang and vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar, along with Leon Wallang (bass) and Vincent Tariang (drums). Tipriti drew rousing applause for her songs ‘Voodoo Woman’ and especially ‘Keep your hands off me,’ in protest against incidents of women being assaulted by men.
Sunday morning kicked off with vocalist Devashish Dey, a classical singer who specializes in thumri, dadra, tappa, chaiti and kazri styles. He has performed widely across India and the UK and released many albums.
The final night-time showcase began with Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, whose award-winning albums include At Swim, Sea Sew and Passenger. The audience cheered along for her outstanding and haunting harmonies. She also showed her sense of humor and compassion by dedicating a song to the safety of drivers in India’s notorious traffic-choked streets (‘don’t be in a hurry, don’t be crushed by a lorry’).
A mesmerizing band then took the stage: Aga Khan All Stars, with a range of talented instrumentalists from Afghanistan, China, Italy and Syria. The collective is a project of the Aga Khan Music Initiative, an inter-regional music and arts education program. The music evoked the culture along the historic Silk Route from Asia to Europe. Salar Nader, Homayoun Sakhi. Wu Man, Feras Charestan, Basel Rajoub, and Andrea Piccioni drew loud applause for their outstanding solos and duets on pipa, tabla, saxophone, kanun and tamburello.
The perfect finale was the colorful and energetic Raghu Dixit Project, one of the most popular contemporary folk-fusion bands in India. Their infectious and happy tunes were sung in Kannada and Hindi, with Raghu Dixit on vocals, Gaurav Vaz on bass, Sanjay Kumar on guitar, H.N. Bhaskar on violin, and Wilfred D’moz on drums. They performed hits from their albums including ‘Jag Changa,’ and ended with the superb ‘Har Saans Mein.’
Raghu engaged with the audience throughout, urging them to get up and dance rather than ‘sit down and look at the bums of the people dancing in front of you!’ The band has performed extensively at festivals across Asia, Europe and Australia, and their youthfulness and creativity will ensure that they continue to headline a range of cultural events.
The final musical performance at the Jaipur LitFest was on Monday morning, titled ‘East Meets Middle East.’ It featured a superb blend of music from the Middle East and South Asia, with Subrata Bhattacharya (tabla) and Abhisek Lahiri (sarod) from Kolkata collaborating with Ronnie Malley (oud) and George Lawler (percussion). Palestinian Ronnie Malley anchored the set, and the group truly transcended boundaries as they paired off in a range of scintillating duets.
I look forward to interviewing the artistes in more detail and reviewing their albums, and will be sure to check out the 11th edition of the Jaipur LitFest next year, with its unbeatable combination of literature and music!
The Baul are mystic minstrels, traditional poets, singers, and storytellers, from Bengal (eastern India and Bangladesh). With their flowing saffron robes, long jet black hair, rolling eyes and swaying hips, they sing in their high keening voices to the frenzied accompaniment of their traditional instruments.
The Baul movement, at its peak in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has now regained popularity among the rural population of Bangladesh. Their music and way of life have influenced a large segment of Bengali culture, and particularly the compositions of Nobel Prize laureate Rabindranath Tagore.
Bauls live either near a village or travel from place to place and earn their living from singing to the accompaniment of the ektara, the lute dotara, a simple one-stringed instrument, and a drum called dubki. Bauls belong to an unorthodox devotional tradition, influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Bengali, Vasinavism and Sufi Islam, yet distinctly different from them.
Bauls neither identify with any organized religion nor with the caste system, special deities, temples or sacred places. Their emphasis lies on the importance of a person’s physical body as the place where God resides. Bauls are admired for this freedom from convention as well as their music and poetry. Baul poetry, music, song and dance are devoted to finding humankind’s relationship to God, and to achieving spiritual liberation. Their devotional songs can be traced back to the fifteenth century when they first appeared in Bengali literature.
Baul music represents a particular type of folk song, carrying influences of Hindu bhakti movements as well as the shuphi, a form of Sufi song. Songs are also used by the spiritual leader to instruct disciples in Baul philosophy, and are transmitted orally. The language of the songs is continuously modernized thus endowing it with contemporary relevance.
The preservation of the Baul songs and the general context in which they are performed depend mainly on the social and economic situation of their practitioners, the Bauls, who have always been a relatively marginalized group. Moreover, their situation has worsened in recent decades due to the general impoverishment of rural Bangladesh.
We live in confounding and perplexing times. A relatively peaceful international order this past year has suddenly become upended by at least two recent political developments: the U.K.’s Brexit and the results of the presidential elections here in the U.S. In both instances negative views concerning globalization and immigration threaten preservation and celebration of humanity’s rich cultural heritage and diversities.
Regressive electoral rhetoric here in the U.S. flaunted and promoted xenophobic intolerance, religious bigotry, racial hatreds, and misogyny. Right-wing supremacist views loom on the horizon as the new normal. In such a dangerously noxious atmosphere affecting the international, it’s critical to continue to explore and discover what’s noteworthy among the myriad global artistic, poetic and musical, expressions. They form the world’s magnificent cultural ecosystem. The proliferation and accessibility of world music recordings and concerts today in Europe and America, compared to, say, their “newness” 30 or 40 years ago, underscore much-needed cultural resistance against the political rants about metaphoric and physical borders and walls.
Across the pond, London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world. About a third of Londoners are foreign-born where over 200 languages are spoken along with English, the official language. This is the cultural “fabric” of the U.K.’s largest city that Simon Broughton, editor in chief of Songlines Magazine, mentioned during a visit this past fall preceding the U.S. elections, as I attended a couple of excellent Barbican Centre world music events.
Among the international stalwarts advocating world music, Songlines Magazine, launched in 1999, is one of the few remaining major print and digital music publications. Still not widely circulated in the U.S. though available on the net, the magazine covers global music, traditional and contemporary, popular and fusion, with impressive style and content. (The print edition with its handsome glossy lay-out is well-worth the subscription.)
In Simon’s view: “Rather than just being a music magazine, I have always seen Songlines as a way at looking at the world through its music. And music is a way of exposing people to other cultures in a pleasant, accessible and enlightening way. Once you’ve experienced another people’s music and culture, you understand them more and fear them less.”
Songlines, among other world music publications and sites, stands to gain a greater profile as a worldview counter-force, given emerging discriminatory, isolationist ideologies. This occurred to me as I followed Simon Broughton around London for a few days preceding the roiled U.S. presidential elections. Even the concept of Brexit seemed remote during two great concert events at the Barbican.
Transcender Sufi Night
Originally conceived as “Ramadan Nights” in 2004, meant to explore the wealth of Muslim music traditions found throughout Islam’s historical geographies, the Transcender Festival evolved to include spiritual, devotional and trance-ritual sounds from all over the world. This year there were two Sufi-related festival concert nights, programmed by Simon B. I happily caught one. Persia’s iconic Parissa co-billed with Turkey’s Meshk Ensemble. It was a night reaching moments of incantatory rapture.
Parissa had not performed in London for 12 years. The Barbican main hall was filled with Persian media and legions of fans who cherish her. She has not been allowed, as a woman, to perform publicly in her country, due to political repression enforced since 1979. Yet for over 40 years, she commands reverence and adulation whenever her rare appearances outside of Iran. At home in Tehran, she manages to carry on her tradition through teaching the fine art of Persian song to young women.
Accompanied by an ensemble of musicians on tar, kamancheh, and tombak and daf percussion, her repertoire was dedicated to the great 13th century Sufi mystic poet, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi. Her vocal expressive progression during the concert seemed like an epiphanic ascension towards divine mystical love over earthly pain and despair.
The SOAS American scholar of Persian music, Jane Lewisohn, who has followed her since the Shiraz-Persepolis Festival of Arts in the 70s, exclaimed following her performance, “Parissa always chooses the best poetry by Rumi.” Lacking regrettably were program notes with translations of the poems. However, I drew pleasure just from the sheer beauty of Parissa’s nuanced delivery of Rumi’s poems with instrumental interludes. Hers were elegant delectations, restrained, lit with spiritual passion.
Meshk Ensemble Video Clip by Evangeline Kim:
The real surprise of the Sufi-themed evening was the stunning opening concert by the Turkish Meshk Ensemble. There are currently all sorts of Turkish whirling dervish groups in Turkey ranging from the new age to the nonsensical. Most all authenticity in Turkish Sufi devotional music was lost in 1925 when Sufism was banned as “backward” in the country for various reasons. The original 1001 days of dervish training in the Mevlevi lodge tradition were abandoned. The rigorous training of dervishes in Sufism’s philosophy and thought, its ethical code of conduct (adab), and the related arts, – particularly musical knowledge of the highly complex technicalities in the Turkish makam system seemed all but foregone according to the Meshk Ensemble’s spokesman and musician, Feridun Gündeş. A deeply embedded cultural tradition of higher knowledge dissipated into forms of nostalgia and touristic exoticism.
Simon further notes, “It’s the state-supported Konya Sufi Music Ensemble that usually tours with ‘whirling dervish’ performances and performs regularly in Konya where Rumi was buried in 1273. But their performances seem routine and overblown. They have around 25 musicians and singers and it’s clear that the Mevlevi lodges employed much smaller groups of musicians. So Meshk’s style is much more authentic and more interesting as they are continually investigating new repertoire and not rotating the most common ayin pieces. You could compare Cevikoglu with artists like Roger Norrington or John Eliot Gardiner who transformed the approach to Beethoven and Bach 25 years ago.”
“Meshk’ in Turkish signifies the earlier pre-1925 Sufi musical educational training process from dervish master to student, the chain of transmission. This tradition has been revived and is being upheld by the Meshk Ensemble’s leader, Dr. Timuçin Çevikoğlu, Mevlana scholar with the Ministry of Culture, and who also happens to be the director of the famed Konya Mystic Music Festival.
According to Feridun Gündeş, “He works diligently like a musical archeologist determined to discover how the great composers of the past intended their Ayin compositions to be performed. His understanding is probably the closest we can get to the original works of the past. Meshk Ensemble is the group he founded and created in order to give life to this critical restoration work through performance and recording activities.”
And so it was at the Barbican, we were transported to mystical Sufi realms by a brilliant, London-debut Meshk performance with players of ney, tanbur, bendir, kudum and beautiful vocals by Dr. Timuçin and Suleyman Ozen. The first part featured “Ilahis” or devotional hymns, sung and played during Sufi “dhikr” gatherings (remembrance of God). The lyrics were poems written by some of Turkey’s great poets, including Yunus Emre and Pir Sultan Abdal.
The second part enacted the famed sema ritual ceremony with 5 dervishes whirling in a blur of billowing white robes across the stage to a rare ayin (music performed during sema), discovered a few years ago in official archives by Dr. Timuçin. It’s known as the ‘Hicazkar’ makam – one of utter poise, serenity, and peace – composed by Mustafa Câzim el-Mevlevî in the late 19th century. The lyrics were drawn from Rumi’s masterpiece, the Mathnavi, verses 292-320.
On the upper level foyer at the Barbican, as accompaniment to Transcender, the visual artist Zarah Hussain’s light installation “Numina” drew mesmerized crowds. Combining designs found in Islamic art and architecture with digital technique, Hussain’s basic hexagonal grid shifted with infinite geometric variations of dazzling color and light. Psychedelic visual riffs leading to contemplative wonder.
Songlines Music Awards 2016
Launched in 2009, the Songlines annual awards has become a delightful concert event in recognition of outstanding talent on the world music scene.. A couple of nights later following Transcender, I took in another sold-out evening at the Barbican’s main hall, showcasing 4 winning acts based on current recording releases, voted in by Songlines’ contributors, its readership, and the general public: Mariza’s “Mundo”, Sam Lee’s “The Fade in Time”, Songhoy Blues’ “Music in Exile”, and Debashish Bhattacharya’s “Slide Guitar Ragas from Dusk Till Dawn”.
Simon B, as emcee, remarked, “For me this music is interesting because it brings us together. The world is actually quite a small place with millions of diverse traditions. Songlines is about making those better known.”
Contrasts in styles were in sharp relief. Sam Lee opened the night with heart-tugging renditions of some the U.K.’s splendid folk traditions. American record producer, Joe Boyd, in presenting Sam’s award stated: “The genius of Sam and his group has been to find a way to surround that music, those ballads, with really adventurous and interesting instrumentation that takes the rhythmic cue from the song rather than trying to impose something on it.”
Mali’s Songhoy Blues is tremendous in live performance and had the audience jumping and dancing with its searing, rocking rhythms. They excelled especially with the catchy “takamba” beat. India’s Debashish Bhattacharya to me sounds better on the album compared to his performance that night. He is not a strong, convincing vocalist, but surprisingly, sang one song. His edgy twang on the slide guitar was remarkable technically, but the shimmering delicate power of sitar tonalities was the quality I missed.
Mariza, the Portuguese fado star, is forever glamorous and beguiling. I hadn’t seen her live in several years, but her confidence and charm topped off the evening with immense celebratory joy. The Songlines Awards concert is a fun-filled and exciting world music happening, not to be missed if you happen to be in London. Every world music artist might aspire to be a winning Songlines act, appearing at the Barbican.
Malick Sidibe Solo Exhibition, Somerset House
Before I left London, Simon clued me in on the superb exhibition of works by the late Malian photographer, Malick Sidibe. Ensconced within the larger Contemporary African Art Fair that ran for a few days in October at the Somerset House, the solo photography show is still up until January 15th.
While Mali’s roster of stars from the 60s to the present began to hit the world music markets – such as Ali Farka Toure, Boubacar Traore, Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, and Rokia Traore – in Mali’s capital, Bamako, Malick Sidibe was quietly documenting Mali’s popular life and people. To view this exhibition is an astounding view into the lives of ordinary folk who became immortal stars reflected through the lens of this photographer.
Nuit de Noël (Happy Club), 1963 (c) Malick Sidibé
His major work began at the moment of Independence and post-colonial exuberance in the country and throughout Africa, the 60s. Over the years, until Sidibe’s passing this past April, visiting world music fans, record producers, and journalists had their photos taken in Malick Sidibe’s studio.
In Simon’s experience, “It was the thing to do, to have your photograph taken by Sidibe. When I was in Bamako in 2004 a friend of mine took me to Malick’s studio. He was a man of few words and was fast and practical in taking my portrait. He asked me how I wanted to pose and not having a moped to straddle – although I’m sure he could have provided one – I just decided to sit crossed legged. He took a few pictures, but he chose the one that was kept. I went back a day or two later to collect the print. Nick Gold, of World Circuit Records, was also a fan of Malick’s work and took Oumou Sangare, amongst others, to have her photo taken there.”
The exhibit holds 3 themes: Nightlife in Bamako, Beachgoers by the River Niger, and Studio Portraits. Wafting through the exhibition rooms is a fantastic soundscape of African music from the 60s and 70s by DJ Rita Ray. The exhibition catalogue is a keepsake.
Despite the sad turn of political events in Mali since 2012, the photographs are a testament to the vibrant, resilient, and creative spirit of Mali’s people. The art of living lives on through Malick Sidibe’s eyes. And Songlines will continue to add value to Mali’s and the world’s musical legacies. There is hope for better days to come.
Headline photo: Meshk Ensemble – Photo by Evangeline Kim
Your Connection to traditional and contemporary World Music including folk, roots and various types of global fusion