Across the Universe, for the Sixth Time
This year's globalFEST was punctuated by performances from Occidental Brothers Dance Band International, La Troba Kung-Fu, Kailash Kher, Watcha Clan, and others -- a brave journey through the world of sounds, guided by open minds and big hearts.
"Sometimes people forget that America is part of the world," announced Bill Bragin at the start of the sixth annual globalFEST at New York City's Webster Hall on January 11. He was introducing the night's first act, New Orleans' Hot 8 Brass Band, and reminding the capacity crowd that the term "world music" applies to the indigenous sounds of every country -- including our own. At the end of the intro, Bragin characteristically drove the point home: "I think that on January 20 the rest of the world will once again remember that we are a part of it." The audience exploded with appreciation, and Hot 8 blared the first notes from the tuba, saxophones, and trumpets.
I did not have high expectations from this crew, mostly due to their latest lackluster album. It's good -- just as they are good -- but the accolades do not exceed that sentiment. That was OK, though, as I had other acts to check out. I made it a goal to see at least snippets of all 12 globalFEST bands that night, a goal I had set in the past and failed to reach each time. Indeed, I would fail again, but I'll get to that. First, we visit the basement.
Occidental Brothers Dance Band International
The crowd surged with appreciation; it was a ritual performance, not a spectator sport, and the father-son team performed amazingly. Then I was off, back upstairs for a cumbia/ska/dub/flamenco outfit from Barcelona called La Troba Kung-Fu. That's the thing with globalFEST: since it is a showcasing event geared towards the hundreds of presenters present from across the planet for the APAP conference, you only get a taste of each performer (not that 45 minutes to an hour isn't a sizable chomp).
La Troba Kung-Fu
I tried, and the truth is I could have made it to French gypsy duet L&O (an offshoot of klezmer gypsies Les Yeux Noirs, who I have seen and loved before), or Inuit throat singer/vocalist Tanya Tagaq, who was accompanied solely by a cellist. In retrospect, I should have, for the reviews I received regarding Tagaq in particular were basically of this sort: I cannot believe what I just heard. It was my loss; I wanted to stay in prime position at front of stage for Kailash Kher's Kailasa, and I ended up running into numerous friends and associates, prompting conversation after conversation. Sometimes this sort of engagement can be even more rewarding than music, so I spent the break in the main room awaiting one of India's most beloved singers.
Without a doubt, his set was larger than any other that night: the sound, lighting, and presentation were arena-sized. They focused where it mattered most -- on the low end. Two local percussionists, Duke Mushroom and Dave Sharma, added splashes of krakebs, darbouka, congas, talking drums, tablas, and dhol; one of Kher's drummers even pulled out one of my favorite percussive instruments, the duggas. More than a show, it was an experience, and Kher stood front and center with a smile larger than his face and a voice larger than his body. Needless to say, I didn't make it back downstairs again for a while.
Not until Watcha Clan, that is. Sure, I stopped into the middle floor to check a minute of Calypso Rose, but was bored halfway through the first song -- rather than Caribbean soul, it was Caribbean cruise ship music. Hailing from Marseilles, I first caught Watcha Clan in Paris in March, and helped bring them to the States for the first time in September for the Droma Gypsy Festival. globalFEST producers picked up from there and invited them back, and the band tentatively plans a US tour in the late summer.
For the first, globalFEST was broadcast live thanks to WNYC. You can hear the action housed on the site here.