All the World (Music) is Three Stages: globalFEST 2011

For the last eight years, globalFEST has been presented annually in New York City, partly as a showcase for the yearly Association of Performing Arts Presenters convention. World music aficionados also know the fest, which this year included two U.S. debuts, as the place to discover sounds that are about to take front and center stage on the world music scene.

I started my evening of globalFEST in slightly somber mood, as it was the day after the Tucson massacre. But it was impossible not to surrender to the glorious beauty of the sounds that emanated on Webster Hall´s three stages, with the schedule staggered such that it was actually possible to see all thirteen groups. By carefully strategizing, I caught the better part of the following ten concerts, and by the end of the evening, my mind had turned hopefully to Leonard Berstein´s quote: This will be our reply to violence, to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.

Hawaiian Heart and Soul: Kaumakaiwa Kanaka´ole

Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole began the globalFEST evening with his oli – haunting, lovely traditional chants, accompanying himself on the pahu, Hawaiian drum. First-time ever traditional Hawaiian artist at globalFEST, the 27 year-old artist is part of a prestigious musical lineage that spans seven generations. Kaumakaiwa sang mesmerizing mele (songs) in a voice that ranged from baritone chant to falsetto, and along with guitarist Kamakoa transported us somewhere beautiful, primeval, powerful and magical – perhaps the slopes of the volcano Manua Kea, where he grew up.

Musical masterpieces of humanity’s intangible heritage: Aurelio Martinez

The Garifunas, who live along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are descendants of Africans who mixed with the indigenous Arawak peoples after they escaped shipwrecked slave ships. Garifuna singer, composer and guitarist Aurelio Martinez from Honduras, sings to preserve and further his traditions. Aurelio shared with us soaring melodies that incorporate West African and Caribbean percussion, rhythms and dance, which along with the Garifuna language of the songs, are UNESCO-declared “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangibles Heritage of Humanity”.

Boiling Hot Brazilian Beats: Orquestra Contemporânea de Olinda

It’s impossible stay still when the Orquestra´s ten members take classic brass band carnival music from the state of Pernambuco in northeastern Brazil – called “Frevo”, from the colloquial way of saying “boiling” – as well as other traditional genres, and mix in their joyful, uninhibited, rocked-out spirit. Nominated for a 2009 Latin Grammy for ‘Best Tropical Brazilian Roots Album´, the Orquestra´s sounds certainly made my blood boil, in the best of all possible senses.

The Orishas’ Jazz: Pedro Martinez Group

Pedrito Martinez is a radiant being with a luminous smile, dressed in the all-white clothing that identifies him as initiated into the Yoruba religion. Set in a jazzy context that is muy cubano, Pedrito´s music is centered on traditional afrocuban rhythms, particularly the rumba, with its flamenco-based “Diana” (wordless chants that start it off) and he believes in communicating with the Yoruban deities, the Orishas, through the drum. The packed room practically vibrated with Pedrito´s rich rhythms and melodies as they took us to some kind of higher plane, where I’m sure the Orishas were bestowing their blessing.

Twenty-five strings, one heart: Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal

Malian Ballaké Sissoko and French Vincent Segal, two musicians of the same age, but from different continents, both started playing their instruments as children and continued to become highly educated in their respective classical traditions. Sissoko on the kora, a West African long-necked harp lute with twenty-one strings, and Segal on the cello and its four strings, interweave their melodies and rhythms in such a way that not only do they complement each other, but at times each instrument takes on the other’s personality and style. The duo created an enthralling, exquisite musical dialogue where two continents and cultures spoke and understood each other in a completely new way.

Rocking Vodou Brew: RAM

RAM is a mizik rasin (roots music) band based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, led by founder Richard A. Morse, Princeton graduate and vodou priest (hence the initials RAM). Morse, a Puerto Rican-born Haitian-American singer and songwriter, his wife Lunise and ten other musicians incorporate vodou lyrics and traditional instruments, such as the konet (long-necked, flared tin horns – check out musicians playing several of them at the same time in the video) into modern rock and roll. Singing in Kréyòl, French, and English, their tunes are an irresistible, supremely danceable brew.

Jazzy Senegalese Sampler: Yoro Ndiaye

Yoro Ndiaye, statuesque and dreadlocked, performed gentle vocal melodies with extended instrumental passages that allowed all the musicians to solo on both traditional instruments as balafon (a wooden-keyed xylophone) as well as the band’s contemporary instruments. His songs in Wolof, French and English, were a beautiful assortment that ranged from delicate desert blues to mbalax, the genre of Senegalese music based on the praise songs of the Wolof people made popular by Youssou N-Dour, but taken to a trance-inducing, jazzy place.

Not Exactly Your Parent’s Salsa: La 33

The twelve musicians from this Bogotá band show their differing musical backgrounds and interests – such as ska, rock and heavy metal – in appearance and movement. On the one hand, their style of hard-hitting salsa directly references salsa and afrocuban beats from the 1960s and 70s. However, a certain frenetic-punked up energy informs their beats, and in the crowd, some happily performed the old-school salsa school pirouettes while others simply did the ska pogo – and it all worked.

Afroperuvian Club Music: Novalima

Novalima takes Peru’s rich Afro musical tradition, born of an African presence that dates back to the 16th century, to the 21st century club. Originally four internationally based DJ/producer musicians from Lima, the ensemble now includes traditional afroperuvian musicians, and their collaboration has shed light on the often-ignored richness of afroperuvian culture. Spanish-language songs and poems from Peru’s Afro tradition, belted out by Milagros Guerrero, the band’s main vocalist, are set in the context of centuries-old beats created from instruments such as cajón and jawbone along with all that a laptop can produce as an instrument, making for a potent, edgy mix.

Here comes the groom!: Red Baraat

The night (by that point, early morning) ended with what might be the best wedding music ever – Red Baraat, a group that takes its name from “baraat”, the Hindi word for the groom’s celebratory marriage procession to his bride’s house. The NYC-based group fuses infectious North Indian Bhangra rhythms centered on the dhol (double-sided, barrel-shaped North Indian drum slung over one shoulder) with brass beats, and their sound, a wild no-holds-barred fusion of the varied musical experiences the group’s members bring to the mix – STOMP, jazz, Indian classical music, ska, reggae, afrocuban, and amazingly, enough, rapping closed globalFEST on an uplifting, euphoric note.