Celebrating Cultural Activism in NYC: APAP Vision 2021 and Globalfest 2011

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Words & Photos By Evangeline Kim

The coming year, if not the next decade, offers great promise for worldly cultural activists, as evidenced by some of the key sessions held during APAP’s recent annual conference at the New York Hilton. (ed: APAP is the Association of Performing Arts Presenters).  Along with Globalfest’s splendid 8th edition at Webster Hall, all served to brighten the horizon towards improved international cultural appreciation and awareness in the U.S. and beyond.

APAP’s theme this year, Vision 2021, was thought-provoking: “2021 begins now. What will the culture of our lives be ten years from now? What are the implications for our work in the arts? What is our role and place in society in the future?” In partial answer to these challenging questions for the performing arts industry “that has at its heart human interaction and creativity,” APAP had programmed 3 outstanding session events for conference attendees.

Continue Reading After the Jump:

U.S. Cultural Diplomacy:

Over the past several years, APAP President and CEO, Sandra Gibson, and her staff have very carefully programmed stimulating panel sessions with brilliant scholars, international officials, and industry leaders, keenly focused on the core topic of American cultural diplomacy. This year, APAP featured a remarkable interactive forum on cultural diplomacy with remarks by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Ann Stock, entitled “Culture in Diplomacy – A New Age for Arts and Cultural Relations.”

Her speech was a fine opportunity to learn first-hand about the Department of State’s cultural exchange and diplomacy programs, built upon Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s concept of “smart power,” or the pursuit of foreign-policy goals with a variety of means including the arts. She said, “As Secretary Clinton succinctly said in a recent CBS Sunday Morning interview, ‘For an American performer or group to come [to a country] gives people a chance to think about what might be. There are certainly times when music conveys American values better than a speech…’ And she is so right. In the arts, there are no great or small nations, no superpowers and their satellites; no First, Second or Third World nations. There are simply human connections. Each of the world’s cultural traditions has equal stature and each voice has a claim on our respect.”

She gave updates about a few major programs by the Department:

The Department and the Brooklyn Academy of Music in partnership announced DanceMotion USA’s second season. Four contemporary American dance companies, the Trey McIntyre Project, the Sean Curran Company, the Jazz Tap Ensemble, and Rennie Harris Puremovement will travel to 14 countries and territories: China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mozambique, the Palestinian territories, Turkmenistan and Zimbabwe. Through an additional program component, an international dance company will visit the United States and share their artistry with American audiences. All of these groups will participate in performances, educational outreach activities, workshops, master classes, and arts management sessions.

Another successful program, The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad focuses on American roots music including country, blues, gospel, hip hop, jazz, and zydeco. The Bureau in partnership with Jazz at Lincoln Center has sent 39 groups with 150 musicians to more than 100 countries over the past 5 years. Auditions for the next Rhythm Road tour are now being held in New Orleans and New York.

“SmARTpower,” the bureau’s next new major venture, will send 15 American visual artists abroad to create community based projects. The Bronx Museum of Art will implement the program and encourage dialogue on the environment, education, health, women and girls’ issues, and freedom of expression.

Another new exciting program under the name of Center Stage will represent an impressive shift from the Department’s usual cultural programming. Historically American cultural diplomacy efforts have focused on sending American artists abroad. In 2012, the Department will bring 10 international performing arts groups to the U.S for a month-long tour. The 3 countries selected are Pakistan, Indonesia and Haiti.

Read Ann Stock’s Full Transcript: [PDF]

APAP 2011 Inaugural of Artist Fellows Program:

One of APAP’s most potentially influential programs was inaugurated this year during the conference: The Artist Fellows Program. 11 performing arts artists from the U.S., the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, Asia, and Africa were selected by nomination from the conference planning committee based on 3 criteria: artistic excellence, community engagement, and business acumen. Next year’s fellows will be chosen through an open nomination process by all APAP members. The artists’ program was designed to be an integral core part of conference discussions by sharing their artistic voice and process with attendees.

More often than not, artists are experienced in live performance only – with little direct interaction with their presenters and audiences. This fellowship could help bring about change towards newer opportunities, opening up more dialogue from cultural, educational, and human points of view by artists themselves within the presenting context. It’s also to be hoped that future APAP Artist Fellows will be given a showcase opportunity during the conference as part of their distinction.

The lively morning panel session, “Flash Forward: 2021 with APAP Artist Fellows” gave attendees the chance to meet the artist fellows and listen to deeply personal aspects of their work and visions for the future.

One Artist Fellow, Jared Nickerson, noted later: “In the midst of the dialog between the Presenters present and the “Fellows” panel, I realized how important the moment was and how informative for both sides who work with each other day after day, but rarely have the time to discuss how their artistic thoughts and passions co-exist and intermingle.”

The panel was moderated by the poised, gracefully articulate Ethiopian-American singer, musician, cultural activist, and TED Fellow, Meklit Hadero, who served as Artist Consultant and Liaison to the Artist Fellows. She summed up this year’s pilot program as follows:

“In general, the many actors that negotiate and maintain how the public experiences the performing arts – artists themselves, managers, agents, presenters, production folk, venue owners, etc – often remain rather ‘silo-ed’ from one another. They all have their specific involvement in making art and performances happen, but they generally have limited dialogue with each other outside of the particular mission of their discipline, organization, institution or company.”

“The APAP conference is the largest annual opportunity for this cross-purpose dialogue to happen. It’s a place where many folks book their seasons, yet it’s also a place where the field looks at itself, sets goals and generates inspiration for the year ahead. In the conference history, outside of artists showcasing their work, there’s been a limited artist presence in these actual dialogues that take place at the conference. The fellows program was designed to open up the space for artists to sit solidly within that dialogue, and bring their essential voices into a more prominent place within the conversation.”

“The fellows were an incredible group of 11 artists, from multiple disciplines, geographies, and histories. The group really connected, were inspired by one another’s practice and innovations, and I’m excited to see the potential collaborations that come from this gathering. 2011 was the pilot year of the program, and it will certainly continue to develop next year and beyond!”

The APAP|NYC 2011 Artist Fellows are:

Marc Bamuthi Joseph (US): Spoken Word artist, Educator, Curator, Theater maker, Community activist [Life is Living]
Emeline Michel
(US/Haiti): Singer, Cultural Activist [Emeline Michel]
Jared Nickerson
(US): Bassist, Business Manager for Burnt Sugar [Burnt Sugar]
Prumsodun Ok
(US/Cambodia): Dancer, Choreographer, Founder of Natyarasa [Natyarasa]
Christina Pato
(Spain): Gaita (Galician Bagpipe Player), Member Silk Road Ensemble [Cristina Pato]
Alvaro Restrepo
(Colombia): Dancer, Choreographer, Co-founder of El Colegio del Cuerpo [El Colegio del Cuerpo]
Brian Rogers
(US): Artistic Director and Co-Founder of the Chocolate Factory [Chocolate Factory Theater]
(US/Uganda/Rwanda): Singer, Songwriter, Founder and Director of New Africa Live [Somi Music]
Dawn Stoppiello
(US): Choreographer, Dancer, Co-founder of Troika Ranch [Trioka Ranch]
Benjamin Taubkin
(Brazil): Jazz Musician, Co-founder of Nucleo Contemporaneo [Nucleo Contemporaneo]
Jason Treuting
(US): Percussionist, SO Percussion [SO Percussion]

Click here to read more about the APAP Artist Fellows.

Azar Nafisi’s Closing Plenary:

The Iranian author, Azar Nafisi, noted for her international best-seller, “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books,” and who is currently Executive Director of Cultural Conversations at the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, delivered one of the most powerful and passionate ex-tempo plenary speeches ever in APAP conference history. Her stirring speech was eminent testimonial to APAP’s invaluable role in giving great minds the plenary podium – and all the more reason to attend the conference for such brilliant, inspirational moments.

Azar Nafisi has been living in the U.S. since 1997, due to the harrowing, repressive conditions imposed especially on women and girls by a fundamentalist regime. She now holds American citizenship. Her speech was an electrifying synthesis of the relation between culture, politics, and human rights, and offered glimpses of her forthcoming book, “The Republic of Imagination,” that will deal with the power of literature to liberate minds and peoples.

She asserted that art makes us look at ‘the other,’ at everything, and life – through new eyes. Through curiosity or ‘imagination knowledge’ we are able to connect with others. It’s not a matter of difference – but to be human – to become enabled through art to remark, “Oh, how similar we are!”

Mincing no words, she lashed out against and lamented the current regime in Iran that has reduced “a great, historical culture” and “a great religion” by assaulting the individual voice and attempting to turn all voices into one. A totalitarian state will “mutilate human rights, and its first target is works of the imagination – dance, music and theater, film, and books.” In Iran, she further noted, the authorities have closed down all humanities courses in universities.

“You see how potent culture is?” “Evil and good have no geographic prejudice.” “The pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness is not only an American thing.”

“The people of Iran did not give up certain things. They could not give up living, falling in love, and listening to music… This is not just a political struggle but an existential one!”

[Azar Nafisi]

Globalfest 2011:

Part of the excitement generated by APAP’s conference in winter-frozen January New York now has very much to do with heated anticipation for what has become the New Year’s great world music festival showcase in one night at Webster Hall: globalFEST.

This year’s 8th annual edition of globalFEST was by far the best of all. It’s possible that more emphasis on traditional music by the 3 producers, Isabel Soffer – Director of Programming, World Music Institute, Shanta Thake – Director, Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, and Bill Bragin – Acidophilus: Live and Active Cultures, helped make the event such an elated, total experience.

Each of the 3 showcase stage floors gave focus to 13 distinct musical traditions, some more modernized than others. There was less emphasis on global fusions, which are the hardest to achieve convincingly presenting-wise, as fusions tend to be more intellectually conceived – a head trip of experimental exuberances – rather than deeply felt, grounded-in-tradition, musical coherence. However, globalFEST has, historically, discovered exceptional fusion groups.

For the most part, each performance, whether a big band sound or a smaller intimate duo, struck a high level of consistent quality with elevated, intense energies – there was nothing lackluster in any of the performances. The challenge of programming multiple performance showcases in one night became for globalFEST 2011, an art this time around.

The main ballroom kicked the night off in grand style with the Rhythm of Rajasthan ensemble, a seated quartet of turbaned musicians on harmonium, dholak drum, double flutes, and the sarangi fiddle. They’d traveled all the way to New York, carrying the heat from the Great Thar Desert in western Rajasthan. Their plaintive, quickening 4/4 rhythm melodies were accompanied by a woman dancer who swirled around in her glittering veils, flaring skirt, and ringing ankle bells, while balancing a towering headdress of 7 pots and carefully stepped on up-turned saber blades.

Four large, spectacular bands followed with blazing horns and irresistible dance percussion sections: Pernambuco, Brazil’s Orquestra Contemporanea de Olinda brought on a heady brew of Northeast Brazil’s carnival frevo music mixed with rock and funk with a toss of ska, all woven with Maracatu beats. Bogata, Colombia’s La-33, super-charged the stage with Colombian-style salsa with jazzy brass riffs, and from the crowd’s reaction was one of the most popular acts for the evening.

Haiti’s RAM filled the room with Port-au-Prince carnival rhythms from the country’s misik raisin movement. The group was founded by Richard A. Morse, a Puerto Rican born, Haitian-American singer song-writer, who returned to his ancestral country and became enamored of the country’s music and spiritual traditions. The RAM (bearing his initials) repertoire is a bold, up-tempo, mesmerizing sound soaring to rock-anthem-like heights, yet faithful to vodou roots, lyrically and rhythmically.

Dub-wise from Latin America, Novalima was a cutting-edge blend of Afro-Peruvian traditional music and global DJ culture. This was the perfect upper room finale for globalFEST: late-night club-atmosphere music with funked bass lines, heavy on the electronica reverb, with donkey jaw-bone percussions to boot.

The middle ground floor Marlin Room was boiling with packed audiences and featured some seriously good musicianship. The great Garifuna star singer-composer and guitarist from Honduras, Aurelio Martinez and his Garifuna Soul group takes every performance opportunity to promote the resistence cause of his marginalized Afro-Amerindian community in the Caribbean along with his group’s powerful cascades of polyrhythms and aching, bittersweet melodies. His globalFEST appearance was no exception to his passions. When Aurelio started to dance and shake, his gurgling laughter banished all cares and the intense thrill of life’s joys took over.

Chamber Music by Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal was one of the most anticipated appearances for the evening and their performance was superlative. To have experienced live the collaboration between a Malian griot master kora player whose instrument dates back to Mali’s 13th century court music and a 21st century trip-hop/classical French cellist was just extraordinary. Glissandos, trills, plucks and pizzicatos between the two flowed back and forth effortlessly with thoroughly delightful and surprising chordal harmonies.

Emerging newer Senegalese singer, Yoro N’Diaye, a dread-locked folk balladeer, is part of the younger generation’s mellower, roots-acoustic sound – minus the frenetic mbalax-style thrashing drums. Yoro’s vocals were infused with the spiritual fervor instilled by Senegal’s spiritual Sufi guide, Cheikh Bamba. He gave his band their due with bright solo moments on balaphon and percussions with easy aplomb. The gentler dance rhythms based on traditional folk rep are refreshing – clearly distanced from Dakar’s harder, mbalax and rap grooves.

The Congolese super guitarist Diblo Dibala and band tore up the room with his sweet-tempo soukous- rumba rhythms, one of Africa’s most beloved dance styles. A consummate entertainer, Diblo knows how to please a crowd and had 4 hip-swiveling women singer-dancers onstage who had the entire room shaking and women jumping on stage to join the party action.

Downstairs in the Studio Room, the musicians transported us to Hawaii, Cuba-in-New York, Egypt, and in the final concert, somewhere in-between North India and New York. What a geographically thrilling carpet-ride the whole night was, in retrospect.

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole was the very first Hawaiian performer in globalFEST history, and it was worth the wait. Already a 5 time winner of the Hawaiian Grammy equivalent, the light-hearted 28 year-old tradition-bearer of Hawaiian hula culture, Kaumakaiwa with his flowing mane of hair tucked back, delivered a concentrated performance of traditional songs with just enough translation to draw in the audience. Accompanied by a rhythm guitarist, his vocal range was transcendent, from a rich, fulsome baritone to his wittily tabbed “skinny-girl” falsetto.

Leave it to globalFEST to showcase one of New York City’s most popular Afro-Cuban bands led by Havana-born master percussionist and vocalist, “Pedrito” Martinez. If you want real, authentic Afro-Cuban rumba without booking a flight to Cuba, the Pedrito Martinez Group is it. Pedrito’s deft style as a percussionist was honed during his teens by performing with some of Cuba’s greatest legends, including Tata Guines, Lazaro Roos, Pancho Quinto, and Los Munequitos de Mantanzas. Since moving to New York in 1998, his superb knowledge of Cuban rhythms has yielded awards, recording work with luminaries, and a steady gig at the Guantanamera Restaurant in the city. Watch him dance that utterly seductive guaguanco with Ariacne Trujillo, his female vocalist and keyboardist, also from Havana.

Certainly one of the most charming groups to emerge during the festival was the Egyptian ensemble Zikrayat (“Memories” in Arabic), based in New York. Led by Palestinian-American director and violinist Sami Abu Shumays, the group performed a classical acoustic set with the traditional instrumentation once heard on the soundtracks of mid 20th century golden-age Egyptian cinema, an era of glamorous romance. The two male crooners sang gentle songs of yearning and love with such expressive melismatic emotions, and adding to the delight, the Egyptian-style Raqs Sharqi belly-dancer held the room spell-bound.

The festival’s last performance was a grand, explosive finale by Red Baraat, the first and only dhol ‘n’ brass band in the States. Led by the charismatic dhol drummer, Sunny Jain, the group is a fantastic, innovative fusion of North Indian Bhangra rhythms with brass funk via New Orleans. Sunny’s facial expressions of fierce concentration alternating with broad smiles reflected this intense mix of Bollywood film music, traditional Punjabi thrashing beats, and even a Sufi devotional song.

Bravo to the globalFEST 2011 producers!

Listen to the concerts here

Evangeline Kim is a management consultant in for-profit and non-profit sectors with projects dealing with international commercial business development as well as in cultural fields. She has also worked as an adviser to many arts and cultural organizations, including the Mexican Cultural Institute, New York’s American Museum of Natural History, the Museum for African Art, Afropop Worldwide, as well as The African Development Bank. Evangeline regularly contributes feature articles on global music in various American and international publications.