Words by Evangeline Kim
APAP’s 55th Annual Conference:
New York’s cosmopolitan nature becomes charged with fresh new energies, both local and global, each January, as more than 3400 national and international performing arts leaders and special guests of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) descend upon the city for their annual conference with more than 350 exhibitors in the expo halls at the Hilton (January, 6-10, 2012). The world’s entrepreneurial presenters and agents gear up for the event months in advance to organize close to 1300 showcases in the performing arts. These relatively brief, live performance experiences spark tremendous anticipation for the coming year’s prospects.
This year’s conference-related music festivals and showcases were filled with established global stars and surprising emerging ones. A newer spirit of collaboration too among the city’s own presenters created greater media impact as well as night after night of continuous celebration: notably by Central Park SummerStage, Winter JazzFest, and globalFEST.
Part of APAP’s excitement this year was the presence of its new President and CEO, Mario Garcia Durham. Mr. Durham served as the Director of Artist Communities and Presenting at the National Endowment for the Arts since 2004, and is highly respected by the U.S. presenting community. He is the fifth executive director since the organization’s founding in 1957, and carries forth the brilliant work by his predecessor, Sandra Gibson.
“One of the reasons I took the job of president and CEO of APAP is because I love the membership and all the ways the various communities within it work together to create the arts industry here and internationally,” says Mario Garcia Durham. “Within the objectives I am exploring in my new role, diversity is central – and my understanding of it is broad: culture, gender, age, region, race. Where ever we go at APAP, diversity will be a focus of richer discussions about the performing arts.”
Sandra Gibson herself was present at the APAP Awards Luncheon and, as part of his opening remarks, Mr. Durham paid homage to her for the work she has done over the years for APAP and the field.
We interviewed Ms. Gibson, who graciously shared her views about the performing arts from her coign of vantage: “I’ve witnessed many performing arts colleagues find new, more effective ways to connect, partner and exchange with artists and their counterparts around the world, acting as cultural catalysts in their communities and building a stronger web of support globally for the arts. We are all challenged to grow new capacities, adopt more adaptable strategies and make shifts in our practices and roles that result in a much deeper engagement of the people we serve. I’m excited about the promise of new leadership efforts to respond to the vast demographic shifts in our country and world — holistic approaches to diversity on its terms and beyond the surface, representational approaches we’ve seen for some time. There must continue to be real movement toward the establishment of frameworks, systems and actions that embrace inclusion in every way, on every level. This is our time and an unprecedented time for visible, powerful connections to community. We have an opportunity to respond to the call to action, a call for great acts of community building through the arts that transcend venue, program and market and add vibrancy, value and meaning to our lives. It’s been a wonderful privilege for me to work in the arts sector for more than 30 years and to have the time now to work with The Smithsonian Institution, DeVos Institute at the Kennedy Center and more than a dozen cultural organizations that are dedicated to strengthening and unifying our work for greater community impact.”
Thanks to APAP’s continuing track record of superb leadership, its stewardship guides the conference in its thought-provoking and stimulating annual themes towards professional development. Featured American and globally-recognized leaders in performing arts addressed this year’s theme: “Owning The Road Ahead.” Opening plenary speaker, Carol Coletta, urban expert and leader of ArtSpace, launched the conference with her speech, “Setting the Stage for Owning the Road Ahead.” She vigorously championed the relevance and value of the art industry: art that drives vibrancy – leading to quality of place that attracts talent, towards overall greater economic success.
The eloquent, engaging Tony-Award winner and South African playwright, actor, and director, John Kani, closing plenary speaker, captivated APAP members with his talk “Owning Your Road.” Through his experience in forging change in South Africa during the Apartheid years through the theater and the arts, he passionately avowed, “Art is more powerful than all the weapons you could think about… Imagine, if there were no arts?” And further, “We need to understand that the only way we can succeed is if we get to ‘two.’” (Counting beyond the self, the ‘We.’) From his vantage, he advised that the worldwide arts communities need to unite and advocate together that art is a vital part of the global economy.
There were many useful and practical sessions ranging from funding availability for artists travelling to U.S. festivals from Ireland, Israel, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Canada, and Sweden; visa and artist immigration; media and technology; diminishing carbon footprints; the importance of involving community diversities in programming; and a special focus on building jazz culture.
Another greatly admired South African activist in the arts, Retha Cilliers, CEO of her country’s Field Band Foundation – www.fieldband.org.za – led a moving and inspiring “Ideas Lounge” discussion session entitled “South Africa: The Power of Music in Social Development.” Ms. Cilliers outlined the history, the challenges, and the scope of her foundation’s achievements at the grassroots level to contribute to the education and development of underprivileged communities through organizing field bands. Her organization work has established 19 drum and bugle corps with 4,500 members from 115 townships in 292 schools. While music is the common purpose, the young members develop self-esteem and higher sense of purpose in a turbulent society to rise out of poverty and despair. There are many worthy ways to help Ms.Cilliers’ foundation, specified on the website.
Dmitri Vietze, the indefatigable world music publicist, www.rockpaperscissors.biz, hosted a lively special interest session, “How World Music Presenters Can Increase Organizational Media Presence,” that drew droves of colleagues eager to hear the room’s views and opinions about big-name artistic draw and festival “story” publicity. We heard many voices, including Fabian Alsultany’s announcement about his innovative yoga and music Tadasana International Festival coming up in April on the Santa Monica Pier – www.tadasanafestival.com.
And in the meet and greet afterwards of rarely seen friends, Deborah Cohen, handed out information about her new management multi-phase project (April, 2012 – September, 2013) with the artist Meklit Hadero, The Nile Project – www.nileproject.org: “A multicultural musical platform that will bring together hip-hop, traditional and contemporary musicians living in the Nile countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Egypt) to play and record music, to tour down the river and its source lakes on a boat made out of recycled water bottles, and connect the people of the river to each other and to the broader world. Loosely based on the Silk Road Project, and created by Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero and Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis, the Nile Project explores the intersection of ecology and culture across much of East Africa.”
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Alexa Birdsong, former Arts and Cultural Programs Director with New York’s City Parks Foundation, and legendary performing arts programmer, gave us exciting news about the construction progress of the 20,000 square foot new club and restaurant opening in Harlem in June: www.myimagestudios.com There will be African, Latin, jazz, and r&b performances, and African cuisine starring a protege chef of Wolfgang Puck. Ms. Birdsong will be the Director of Programming.
Spring is springing with many new prospects ahead.
Musical Festival Events During APAP 2012:
Central Park SummerStage Pre-Conference Showcase:
For the first time ever, James Burke, Director, and Erika Elliott, Artistic Director, with New York’s City Parks Foundation’s Arts and Cultural Programs, hosted a festive showcase party at the Highline Ballroom, the eve before the start of APAP, January 5th. In the packed two-tier club, we had a delightful sampling of what’s to come this summer at the city’s ground-breaking, free-to-the-public festival: the energetic Malian hip-hop group, SMOD; the fulsome jazz-singer Gregory Porter with his band; and the glamorous bossa-nova star Bebel Gilberto. SummerStage has grown phenomenally in the past several years and eagerly anticipated summertime performances have by now expanded well beyond Central Park, city-wide throughout borough parks.
New York’s Boom Collective producer Brice Rosenbloom has managed to create over the last 8 years one of the city’s finest jazz festivals, programmed to coincide with APAP. Each year since 2005, when Winter JazzFest began in the former Soho Knitting Factory building, the festival has grown tremendously and this year welcomed over 4000 jazz and music fans in 5 venues in close proximity in the Village, where they could take 60 different performances by a fabulous mix of classic American legends, non-traditionalists, and newer international talent. Brice and his team laid siege over two full nights, January 6th and 7th, at Le Poisson Rouge, Kenny’s Castaways, the Zinc Bar, Sullivan Hall, and The Bitter End.
The influence of jazz in world music cannot be underestimated. Musicians from all over the globe have been dialoguing within and have added their own distinct cultural dimensions to jazz idioms since the ’20′s. Recall Cuba, Brazil, Africa, Japan, and the Nordic countries… American jazz legends themselves continue to explore and assimilate international rhythmic and harmonic languages in their own work.
Malika Zarra, a relatively rare Moroccan Berber woman singer-songwriter, composer, and producer, appeared Friday night, the 6th, with her band during Winter JazzFest at the Zinc Bar. There were long lines of hopeful fans at the gate, waiting sometimes in vain to hear her live. Ms. Zarra has long been captivated by American jazz. Her ululating, restrained mezzo-soprano vocals wove Berber traditional melodies and North African ‘chabi pop’ with syncopated jazz improvisations in impeccable timing. Ms. Zarra’s emotional range and complex intensities can be heard on her recent CD “Berber Taxi.”
Later that night, with all Winter JazzFest venues packed to the gills, it was still a pleasure to sit in Le Poisson Rouge’s bar lounge, watch the live video feed, and listen to the Nels Cline Singers and Jenny Scheinman’s Mischief and Mayhem.
The following evening, although torn by decisions to dash to the other venues and take in other acts, it was just too irresistible to stay put in Le Poisson Rouge and watch and listen to the evening’s series of unrolling sets by the spectacular funk-master Bernie Worrell with his orchestra (with a cameo appearance by Gary Lucas); Ravi Coltrane in trio synchronizations with his punching bass-player and prodigious woman drummer; the piquantly innovative pianist Vijay Iyer and his trio; and the glorious, brightly expansive Dave Murray’s Cuban Ensemble playing Nat King Cole.
Swedish Showcase at Scandinavia House:
There was just enough time on Sunday afternoon (before the long globalFEST night ahead) to take in 3 Swedish showcase acts, out of a total of 9 extending into the evening, at Park Avenue’s Scandinavia House. Sweden’s presentations encompassed several genres, including folk, pop, jazz, electronica and even Turkish traditional with the presence of Haci Tekbilek.
The rousing traditional folk trio, Skaran, featured a World Champion nykelharp player (keyed fiddle), a flute master of Swedish and Breton music, and a natty cellist sporting a bow-tie. They sourced their repertoire from different parts of Sweden, clearly enjoying their whizzing harmonies together – each tap-tapping their feet in true folk form.
The avant-garde trio known as Vacuum is a skilled, amusing collective that explores the sounds of extreme use of air and lack of air. While grounded by the sax and trombone players who huff, puff, bleat, as well as play actual song notes and phrases, the group works with all manner of horns, a bicycle tire pump, and a rubbed large blue balloon. Coaxing forth scored, orchestrated squeaks, honks, and whooshes, they elicited strange sensations, sometimes hilarious, but with complete calibrated control.
One of the most gifted pianist-composers heard in a long time, Cecilia Persson and her group held us in suspended reverie. She scattered shimmering, gently rolling melodies over the piano keys, reminiscent of some of Erik Satie’s or Francis Poulenc’s whimsical syncopations. She was accompanied by her clarinet/bass clarinet player and a nimble vibraphonist, while her sister Pernilla Persson, a visual artist, drew digital portraits of women projected on the rear stage screen.
This year, globalFEST at Webster Hall was sold-out four days in advance with unprecedented media interest. Part of the success may be attributed to the smart decision to co-promote the showcase with Winter JazzFest. The newer collaborative synergy created once again overflowing, almost unnavigable rooms and may give cause to the three producers, Isabel Soffer – LiveSounds.org, Bill Bragin – Acidophilus: Live and Active Cultures, and Shanta Thake – Joe’sPub.com, to seek a larger multi-storied space in the coming years.
NPR recorded most all of the 12 globalFEST 2012 performances and it’s great to be able to hear what one might have missed: http://www.npr.org/series/globalfest/
globalFEST, like SummerStage and Winter JazzFest, has by now become a branded New York institution. The public at large and world music fans attend mainly to participate in an infectiously convivial atmosphere and to see what the producers have discovered in their world music forays. Most usually, the acts are not overly well-known beyond world music circles. The real ‘story’ lies in the festival’s gained reputation – or expectations of – high levels of artistry and contrasts of cultural diversities to be experienced. And there’s no better publicity than that.
Briefly, here are some of the most appealing acts from this year’s edition:
In Webster Hall’s darkened Inferno-esque basement Studio room, we have come to expect the unexpected and daring. This year was no exception as the festival showcase closed with one of the most promising and head-clearing sets by the Ethio-American group from Boston known as the Debo Band. Crammed onto the tiny stage space, the band exploded with horns, violins, traps, percussion, guitar, and keys, rooted by ominous growling bass lines. The lead tenor singer, Bruck Tesfaye, carries the quavering, emotionally-laden male vocal traditions recorded long ago in the great “Ethiopiques” series. There was all the searing roar of Ethiopia’s ’70′s funk-rock-jazz, now switched on to 2012 reverb-psychedelic and the room was boiling. The Sub-Pop label will release Debo’s first CD in the spring, we hope with the same immediacy and spontaneities heard live. This is a big sound destined for stadiums.
Earlier in the evening, China’s Wang Li jaw-harp and sheng player, by contrast, managed to calm 300 people to stillness in the room. With cool, imperturbable hipness, and mastery of the circular breathing technique, he created long, buzzing, echoed resonances with suspenseful overtones on the jaw-harp. And with his blown sheng, meditative moments that arced into peaceful timelessness. His musical traditions are sourced from romantic courtship and shamanistic trance ritual. But when Wang Li tunes in to his own artistic sonic continuum, he transmits marvels of unseen energies and vibrations.
In the middle floor Marlin Room, Cape Verde, a small set of isles, which never ceases to amaze by its abundance of talent, was represented by one of her most beguiling offspring. The young singer, Mayra Andrade, accompanied simply by bass, percussions, and guitar/cavaquinho began her sultry set of ballads in a langorous jazz mood. The style suits well the yearn of morna blues in the elastic range of her vocals – grainy scats that soared, dipped, and lingered wistfully. As she slowly shifted from time to time to quickened funana and samba beats over rippling guitar ostinatos, bouncing cross-rhythms rumbled and surged. Not only the clapping Cape Verdeans in the crowds were charmed.
The wildly beautiful Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, a Southern Italian group of folk singers from Salento, Puglia, are reinventing the traditional ancient dance music known as pizzica tarantata. Driven by obsessive tambourine beats and accompanied by guitar, bouzouki, accordion, recorder, harmonica, bass, and guest trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf. the Dionysian rhythms were once believed to cure the poisonous bite of the tarantula spider. Yet the therapeutic spell of the quickened dance became a curative for depression, anxiety, and sadness among disenfranchised field workers. Today, anyone could use a dose of this music.
In the top floor ballroom, the Yemen Blues group appeared for the third time in New York in a year. For those who have never seen them with lead-singer, the charismatic reedy-voiced Ravi Kahalani, their performance is a testimonial of great Israeli musicianship. The bassist and arranger, Omer Avital, who anchored the group on electric bass and oud, spent months according to Mr. Kahalani, figuring out how to help create the unusual amalgam of sound to back Mr. Kahalani’s songs: chamber-music strings, Afro-Latin percussion, and jazz horns and flute. With intense absorption, he paced, wiggled, and shimmied across the stage as if possessed, grabbed the microphone to wail away, and the room was throbbing with sweaty, ecstatic dancers.
The Silk Road Ensemble, the brain-child of Yo-Yo Ma, later filled the stage with a collective orchestra of 14 musicians: classical strings – violin, viola, bass, cello, pipa, traditional percussions – darbouka, cajon, tabla, winds – a Galician bagpipe, shakuhachi, and sheng. The consortium has vowed to carry on the centuries-old exploratory musical voyage along the ancient trade routes. Theirs is a fine intersection and meeting up of international virtuosic musicians, many based in New York, who are captivated by the world’s musical traditions. As they traversed Spain, India, Sicily, and Asia, they spun forth remarkably good improvisational dialogues, as if savoring scented musical teas together, and then, moved on in their endless journey.
The music and dancing continued at the globalFEST afterparty in Joe’s Pub. DJ Warp, aka Brian Keigher, was onstage at the turntable. Mr. Keigher has served as Senior Program Manager since 2003 with the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago Office of Tourism and Culture, where he helped organize city-wide music events, including the city’s World Music Festival. Well-known for his considerable knowledge of world music, jazz, electronica, indie rock, and jazz, he is a popular local conduit for bringing DJ culture and electronic music into the fold of the world music scene. DJ Warp was a global musical treat for moving feet. His set mix featured dance tracks from Orchestre Poly-Rythmo De Cotonou, Beats Antique, La Yegros, Omar Souleyman with Bjork, Khaira Arby, Bucovina Club vs. Taraf de Haidouks, and Cheb i Sabbah, mixed with new unreleased music gems from ZZk records, Cumbancha, Karsh Kale and more.