A World Shares the Stage

To account for umbrella terms like “world music” is to attempt to synthesize seemingly disparate elements into a coherent whole. When approached in such a manner — like a child spilling a thousand jigsaw pieces to assemble the puzzle — it appears daunting. There is, however, another way of viewing the issue. While requiring a switch in psychology, it is more than feasible to start with a complete picture, and then pick out the parts. This is the manner by which holism views the body, and geologists the earth. Artists are often of the same mindframe.

So goes the underlying theory of globalFEST, an annual New York City mini-fete, now in its fourth edition. Started that many years ago to coincide with the popular Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference by three individuals involved in international music curating, the event moves from its previous incarnation at the Public Theater to Webster Hall on Sunday, January 21. The first of its kind for the global music community in America, globalFEST has experienced three sold-out years, thus turning to the more expansive terrain a few blocks north.

“We realized that we couldn’t accommodate the demand at the Public Theater anymore,” says Bill Bragin, Director of Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater and globalFEST co-founder. “While going to two nights last year allowed about 1,500 people to attend, remounting this 12-artist, multistage festival over two nights was a huge drain on both production and artists.” Held on a Sunday night to allow touring musicians to book prime weekend spots at other venues, globalFEST is as a fitting end for the hundreds of APAP members in attendance.

Alongside World Music Institute’s Isobel Soffer and CRASHart’s Maure Aronson, Bragin developed this festival to nurture the burgeoning world music community. Someone who sees the picture before being broken into innumerable parts, his role at Joe’s Pub has been ambassadorial, introducing international sounds to a city hungry for exploration. Each edition has offered something special, most noticeably the experience of a country or style attendees may not have been conscious of. While common threads run through the performances, the overriding theme has been expressed by individual passions. The summation of artistic fervor is the binding force.

For the 2007 edition Bragin noticed “a major guitar and string theme” in the curating process, one he calls organic. Indeed, scanning the list of 11 acts, a plethora of these instruments appear: banjos, ouds, and a range of electric and acoustic guitars, from Brazilian funk and French flamenco to surf rock and African roots music. Another thread is each artist’s recent emergence in the American eye, albeit via different channels.

To the Brazilian community, Lenine’s blend of samba, MBP and bossa nova in a pastiche of rock-influenced grooves has been decorating stereos for years. His voice is invasive and warm, and his music, whether uplifting or reflective, is governed by a sense of approachability. His is a music one feels more than hears. With numerous recordings available at home, his recent collection on Six Degrees further opened a gateway recently constructed by Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto, and even Nelly Furtado, who performed with the legendary Caetano Veloso. Also offering a touch of Latin soul, Lucia Pulido and Palenque will present the soulful sounds of Colombia invoked by this incredible singer.

Another debut is Cape Verdean Sara Tavares, whose Balance (Times Square) exhibited a hearty, pop-oriented vibe, woven into acoustic guitar-led harmonies and soft dynamics of her lyrical vocals. While the gorgeous, heartbreaking morna is indicative of the island, Tavares’s upbeat style adds a sanguine edge to Cape Verde (although her balladry is equally exquisite, as shown by her duet with fadista Ana Moures). Senegalese vocalist Julia Sarr, joined by collaborator Patrice Larose, will also play a poetic role, bridging Africa with France (while the Frenchman Larose plays a Spanish song). Their intercontinental release, Set Luna (Sunnyside), was a fusion of forms so integrated that to break it into the parts would truly be missing the whole.

Equally integrative is the Parisian-based Joubran brothers, a family of oud players from a lineage of Palestinian luthiers. Wissam builds the lutes that he and brothers Samir and Adnan perform with. Fans of Arabic classical music have already experienced this next wave of oud innovators, whose most recent release, Randana (Harmonia Mundi), is a stunning survey of the complexities (and subtle flourishes) that three-stringed instruments can offer.

What discerning American listeners term “international” usually denotes “foreign”. Britain is geographically further than Mexico, but we’d never call the Beatles or Radiohead world music. Given our uncertain sense of indigenous music, it would be easy to assume the Carolina Chocolate Drops of another planet. And true, their music has the ability to carry one away; the combination of fiddle, banjo, and violin, however, is distinctly rural folk. Their debut Dona Got a Ramblin’ Mind (Music Maker) is a hearty slice of nostalgic Americana, possibly the first time many will hear a jug outside of Emmet Otter’s prodigal playing.

Also homegrown, though with a touch of Cambodian pop, is Dengue Fever, a Los Angeles-based outfit that fuses surf rock with the bubbly vocals of the adorable Chhom Nimols. Adding to the guitar attack is Israel’s Boom Pam, which follows Mediterranean music from Greece up through the Balkans while incorporating tubas and drums into the mix (and also cites Dick Dale as an influence). And the guitar will be central to Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective’s performance, introducing audiences to the more obscure sounds of his homeland.

Rounding out the line-up are two more performers from France, largely due to the production efforts of Emmanuel Morlet of the French Music Export Bureau. Les Primitifs du Futur take a Lo’Jo-esque approach to melding jazz, accordion, rock, and other styles into a cornucopia of sounds, while Babylon Circus offers similar consolidation, albeit with Manu Chao-inspired ska and punk ferver.

“The world is both a big place and a small place, and music from wildly diverse cultural contexts can still connect with general music audiences, moving audiences’ minds, bodies, and souls,” says Bragin. “Although world music is a huge general category that has no easy definition, presenters and audiences who do not consider themselves world music experts, or even major aficionados, can find access points in all kinds of unexpected places.”

Also put, they are offered a piece of the whole before it has been disassembled. While the question of how the jigsaw became scattered remains a little large for this (or any) column, American audiences are sitting at a vista never before reached in terms of accessibility and availability of international cultures. globalFEST is one precipice ready to be scaled.