globalFEST Photographs by Benjamin de Menil
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This is the season of new beginnings all over the world and fueled by the excitement and anticipation of President Barack Obama's new incumbency, the ever-expansive and felicitous 52nd annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference ('APAP' - www.apapconference.org), January 8 -12, at the Hilton in New York City, symbolized a fierce determination by the entertainment industry to serve up a great forthcoming year.
This year's APAP theme "Conscious Connections" celebrated "the values and vision we share as creators and connectors - in presenting the performing arts in America and abroad." Over 4000 Americans and the international community of colleagues and friends gathered together around the APAP conference, not only to seek out new acts for the performing arts industry, but also to share a kaleidoscope of ideas, explore emerging trends and provide fresh perspectives. And this year especially was no exception - in providing each other with communal support and strength during these dire economic times.
The mammoth networking event served to harness the power of the entertainment field "to help find concrete ways to connect the performing arts as a vital component in the overall recovery of the economy." APAP leapt forward this year in strengthening their global network with the biggest international member attendance in its history.
"When we began planning this conference a year ago, the world was a very different place," said Sandra Gibson, president and CEO of APAP. "Now, seismic shifts have occurred, the likes of which none of us have ever seen. While we have all begun navigating unfamiliar terrain, the values and vision we share as creators and connectors - the Conscious Connections we make and shape - are more important than ever, as we gather to learn from each other about the latest issues affecting our field, and, in this particular year, the impact of global economic conditions on the field of arts presenting."
The sixth annual edition of globalFEST, timed to coincide during the APAP conference, has become the most enjoyable way to start the New Year in New York, apart from the serious intent of showcasing some of the best global music for consideration by national and international presenters who pack the audiences. The programming producers, Bill Bragin with Acidophilus: Live & Active Cultures, Isabel Soffer, Director of Programming, World Music Institute, and Shanta Thake, Director with Joe's Pub, managed to pull off yet another spectacular evening of 12 acts and hours of music from around the world, compacted into overlapping sessions of 5 hours over Webster Hall's three stages, Sunday night, January 11th.
Each year the producers are faced with the monumental task of selecting a representative spectrum of relatively unknown world musical styles and genres from a gigantic global pool of resources ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. Behind the scenes, there are wearisome months of visa issue hurdles, financial challenges and last-minute line-up changes that are invisible during the night of the concert.
It's becoming more and more important to attend each year to add to the cumulative knowledge and appreciation of the vastness of global music.
The producers are judicious in their balanced selections: while electronica and hip-hop may seem to be dogmatically vital to a few critics, the annual past concert repertoires have included innovative examples of these including Turkey's Mercan Dede and Senegal's Daara J. In fact, it was vitally refreshing that there was not an overload of world music dominated by electronica or hip-hop hybrids - the world continues to breathe contentedly on its own with its own acoustic styles and rhythms - possibly for the better.
Maybe because it's that time of year when historic carnival festivities begin to gear up in New Orleans, the Caribbean and Latin America, that this year's globalFEST not only paid tribute to those traditions through a few of the stars presented, but the evening's concerts showcased dance bands and unusual music worthy of any carnival or festival worldwide - such was the intensity in ambiance.
The large ballroom stage upstairs seemed the night's venue for the biggest sounding bands (although some of the groups on the other smaller stages could have been equally effective). There, the concert night started up with a blast of second line brass band music from New Orleans with the Hot 8 Brass Band. Their fulsome versions of "I'll Fly Away" and "Keep That Dream Alive" were reminders of the city's hope, renewal and strength, despite the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina.
Hot 8 Brass Band
The Indian Bollywood star Kailash Kher enthralled Desi fans with his Kailasa band. With the bearing of a rock-star, the stocky singer wore a jacket encrusted with Gujarat-style flashy mirrors and sequins along with silver sneakers. While his band delivered vamps suited for stadiums, almost buried in the rock-pop arrangements were the beauty of his vocals and the simplicity of transfixing, sacred devotional Sufi music.
From Barcelona, La Troba Kung Fu, the irreverent Catalan group, led by singer and accordionist Joan Garriga, churned up a thick mix of jaunty Latin sounds that wove cumbia, vallenato and pachanga rhythms - topped with exuberant, rapping shouts and whistles and the sound of a rooster crowing - in their swirling rumba Catalan songs. The final band on the stage was New York's Brooklyn Qawalli Party, a 10-piece instrumental band with horns, guitar, bass, harmonium and percussionists, who pay jazzed-up tributes to the late Pakistani Sufi singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's songs. The immortal qawalli master's soaring, quivering devotional vocals usually accompanied by handclaps and harmonium were replaced by BPQ's punchy horn section, the other musicians, handclaps and the group's occasional energetic chant-singing.
The greatest superstar draw of the evening was Calypso Rose from Tobago, sister island of Trinidad. Rose is a consummate entertainer whether performing in a dynamic stadium mode for crowds of thousands or in a tempered-down intimate club setting - as the Marlin Room at Webster Hall. All other performers at globalFEST can only hope to aspire to the international stardom that Rose has achieved in her lifetime.
Regally elegant in a dazzling red rose suit bordered with glittering rhinestones, beaming with charming happiness, and occasionally coyly lifting her jacket hem as she shimmied her legs, she sang some of her most 'in-famous' songs that will soon be released on her new "Calypso Rose" album in May. In true calypsonian art form, her witty, humorous and risqué lyrics couched satirical pokes at the country's colonial past - "Rum and Coca Cola," made the crowds roar with laughter at eternal male-female rivalry - "A Man is A Man," and made everyone jump up to dance with her classic worldwide hit (ex-tempo styled as political protest... this time mentioning George Bush) - "Fire in the Wire," and the joyous ska dance rhythm "Israel By Bus."
The Marlin Room was continually packed as all stage rooms, with the other three performances, notably the unusual Shanbehzadeh Ensemble from southern Iran. Accompanied by his 15 year old son on percussions, the multi-instrumentalist and dancer Saeid Shanbezadeah captivated as he played traditional trance-inducing Bushehr songs on double flute and double reed bagpipe. His radically sensual, untraditional hip-swiveling dancing has been cause to ban his music in Iran and he now lives in France. L&O, the French chanson group a la Pink Martini presented a sophisticated retro wink at the tradition with stylish musicians, Olivier Slabiak on violin, his vocalist wife Laure, upright bass and even glockenspiel and tuba. In his first appearance outside of Brazil, a child of 70's working-class Rio and following in the footsteps of Gilberto Gil, Marcio Local whizzed through a wild and raucous carnival party mix of samba, funk, soul and r&b.
The over-crowded Studio Room downstairs featured the remarkable Tanya Tagaq, the Canadian Inuit singer with a female cellist and programmed electronica sounds/music. She caught many in the audience who were unaware of her, unexpectedly off-balance with an extended performance of one song "Hunger" on her CD - by delivering her avant-garde version of the Inuit women's tradition of throat singing with rapid inhales/exhales, punctuated by hoarse grunts and ecstatic cries that imitate the sounds of wild animals and the Arctic environment. There seemed to be some references to Laurie Anderson's performance art, but Tanya's own art form is by contrast a musical ode to un-inhibition. She surrendered to her own erotic impulses and explored complex emotions as she seemed at once to morph into a wolverine persona while breathing herself into self-induced human orgasmic climax.
Earlier on in the Studio the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International based in Chicago, gave New York a rare taste of real, live highlife dance music from Ghana - out of Africa. Characterized by typical Akan chordal harmonics - with horns, guitar, bass, cowbell percussion and traps drumming - highlife music is one of the richest, grandest musical styles from English-speaking West Africa. Fascinating to watch was singer Kofi Cromwell formerly with one of the great highlife bands, the Western Diamonds, who bounced his shekere over his body like a soccer ball and alternated with his flugelhorn. The band's music is deeply traditional afro-pop, but had instantaneous appeal for the dancing, swaying audience.
Led by Brooklyn's popular Barbes club-owner, Olivier Conan, the group Chicha Libre had a wonderful opportunity to show off their renditions of late 60's psychedelic Amazonian music that enjoy by now - thanks to two chicha albums released on the Barbes Records label - an almost cultish following by underground world music lovers. Chicha music mixes cumbia rhythms with melancholy Andean melodies and was discovered by Olivier during a trip in Peru. He has managed to capture this haunting dance-rhythm sound along with his band that includes rock organ, surf guitar and Olivier's own beguiling vocals and quattro strumming. The group appeared and sounded deeply entranced as they transported and rocked the room to the heights of chicha - a state of almost mystical being.
The last group of the night, world-mix electronica Watcha Clan from the multi-ethnic sea-coastal city of Marseilles, left the Studio steaming hot with frenetic dancers jumping and bouncing away to skittering drum-and-bass and looping reggae dub beats. The group's rapping lead singer, Jewish dread-locked Sistah K, had a fierce rebellious stage presence as her backing group mixed in contemporary Mediterranean stretches and warps of where the Balkan, Arabic, Sephardic, and Roma intersect, collide and momentarily fuse.
The entire evening is archived on www.wnyc.org/globalfest - where it was originally broadcast live.
Walking through the three floors of APAP exhibitors, it was striking to note the clearly increasing number of booths of agents and international country representatives who are plugging world music and cultures compared to a few years ago. This is most certainly due to the foresight and vision of APAP President Sandra Gibson and her staff who have helped nurture growth of the world music field, promoted by activists associated with the North American World Music Coalition www.worldmusiccoalition.org.
Two newer world music agencies took full advantage of the conference with their expansive and popular booths: Alexandra Casazza's Trouble Worldwide who represents Tanya Tagaq, Watcha Clan and Gokh-Bi System among others, handed out eye-catching buttons "Looking For Trouble" that were pinned to the lapels of many attendees; and Phil Ballman/Mel Puljic's Mondo Mundo agency whose side table was loaded with promo CDs by several more emerging stars including Seun Kuti, Fallou Dieng, Morley, and others. One of APAP's more recent major sponsors, African Footprint, Richard Loring's glorious, uplifting dance musical from South Africa and commended by President Nelson Mandela, was ensconced in Toronto-based Corey Ross' Starvox Entertainment booth. Judging from the numbers of presenters visiting Corey's booth who wereeager to learn more about African Footprint, APAP serves as the most worthy conduit to growing international bookings.
Apart from APAP's timely, well-organized, carefully thought-out conference session tracks including excellent focus on the importance of cultural diplomacy, world music activists are invited each year to hold free-to-the-public Special Interest sessions that give focus to the industry and field. On Friday the 9th, these were extremely well-attended and Hilton or Sheraton conference rooms were packed with labels, agents, publicists, artists, and fans, whereas a few years back, the attendance was much, much smaller. Entrepreneur label owner Jamie Propp with As Is Entertainment had ready-made marketing targets in world music sessions and handed out hundreds of copies of Haitian singer Manze Dayila's CD.
One of the most interesting sessions dealt with "Capturing Audiences through E-Marketing." Moderated by Anastasia Tsioulcas (Gramaphone) with panelists Mehmet Dede (Electric Lila) and Chad Herzon (Juanita College), the session description read: In what ways are people most likely to learn about an event? Do these methods adequately engage the next generation in the performing arts? This session invites all members of the performing arts community to discuss ways of "capturing" young and new audiences who have grown up in the age of technology. Concrete examples show the success of e-marketing as a means to develop and reach new audiences nation-wide.
This topic is critical to the growth of performing arts, let alone world music, as the importance of New Media will influence communications growth for all age groups in many powerful ways. One hopes that APAP will develop the theme of New Media marketing by seeking out and inviting scholars and authorities to share insights and knowledge at future conferences.
Speaking of New Media, through Facebook, the enormous social networking utility now used aggressively by many in the world music field to promote shows and related events, it was pure serendipity through the vast contact network to meet a mutual friend of friend Claude Grunitzky, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of TRACE Magazine - the brilliant Cameroonian filmmaker Pascale Obolo based in Paris, who is making a documentary about Calypso Rose to be released in September. Through Facebook messaging we learned she was attending globalFEST with Trinidad based Executive Producer Jean Michel Gibert, www.caribbeanmusicgroup.com. Needless to say, one of the great pleasures of the APAP conference was meeting up with them as they networked away with several new contacts encountered in just a few days. Such is the efficient beauty of internet conscious connections.