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I WAS THERE . . . GlobalFEST @ Webster Hall, 01.11.09

Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.” ~Jimi Hendrix

At a time when headlines are muddled with numbers—the market is down 126 points, thousands flee as flood kills eight, twelve people wounded by two improvised explosive devices, polar ice caps shrink by 20% in thirty years—New York refreshed itself with a large turn-out for twelve international bands playing on three stages for one night on Sunday, January 11, 2009. In its sixth year, globalFEST upheld its reputation as a veritable smorgasbord of musical talent.

Expertly timed to coincide with the annual Association for Performing Arts Presenters conference, globalFEST transformed Webster Hall into a hive of auditory bliss with acts ranging from big band fusions to diamond-in-the-rough traditions. Determined to catch as many bands as possible, I began my sojourn in the Main Ballroom with the Hot 8 Brass Band, a soulful group of NOLA’s finest musicians merging jazz, marching band, funk, hip hop, and R&B into a tasty gumbo. Propelled to recognition by Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, the Hot 8 Brass Band represents the enduring soul of the people of Louisiana. By the boom of their collective voices and a bevy of brass, Hot 8 kicked off les bons temps.

With my dancing shoes well-primed, I left the main ballroom and went below to the Studio to catch the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International (OBDBI). At the helm of this multi-faceted band is indie-rock guitarist Nathaniel Braddock from Chicago and Kofi Cromwell, the lead singer of Western Diamonds, one of Ghana’s leading highlife bands. Together Braddock and Cromwell solder Central and Western African dance styles of soukous, highlife, and rumba with Chicago’s deep dish of jazz, house, and rock. For their New York debut, OBDBI spared no expense with Cromwell’s crisp voice balancing the strength of the guitars and horns that are characteristic of highlife music.

I returned back upstairs to the Marlin room for the Shanbehzadeh Ensemble, a duo led by Saeid Shanbehzadeh and his teen son Naghib. Based out of France, this father-son team transported the crowd to the neglected province of Boushehr in Southern Iran by way of the Neyanbann (double reed bagpipe), the Neydjofti (double flute), the Dammam (two-sided drum), and the Zarbetempo (percussion). Part multi-instrumentalist and part dancer, Shanbehzadeh whirled with the bulbous bagpipe snug in his arms, raising the instruments high just before scooping down towards the stage with dexterity. With talent in his genes, son Naghib brought out African and Indian-influenced beats on the zarbetempo, which punctuated the trance-like wheez of the neyanbann. Together, the Shanbehzadeh Ensemble revealed the unexpected musical traditions of the Persian Gulf.

“RUMBA!” exclaimed frontman and accordionist Juan Garriga of La Troba Kung-Fu, Spain’s unsuspecting seven-piece rumba Catalana band–now throw in some Latin, Dub/Reggae, and folk for good measure. By the bidding of my good friend, I spent a full hour in the Main Ballroom absorbing the high-energy display of the individual and collective talent that is La Troba Kung-Fu. Never before have I seen an accordion played with such alacrity (for more traditional gypsy-like rhythms) then slowed down for soul-moving dub. During a few improvisations, guitarist and self-proclaimed “keeper of la rumba Catalana,” Muxaxu strummed the acoustic guitar into a frenzy as he and Garriga played off one another. The crowd took its cue from Garriga who encouraged clapping of various speeds and rhythms and in no time the entire ballroom became a hand-clapping, hip-swinging happy time. I was particularly impressed by the way all members of La Troba Kung-Fu maintained the integrity of the music even as the tempo quickened and as impromptu dance battles broke on-stage. NOTE: This band does not have a U.S.-based agent so if you are interested you should certainly check out their website.

From Catalonia to India, the Main Ballroom filled with the raw and high-pitched croon of Kailash Kher and his band Kailasa. Kher’s Bollywood fame belies his humble beginnings in the small village of Meerut where he learned to sing by listening to his father chant Indian folk songs. As an adult, Kher’s business career tanked just before he decided to try his hand at singing in Mumbai. There in the midst of other musical talents, Kher rose above the rest with his first album recorded in collaboration with composers Paresh and Naresh Kamath; two brothers who also form the foundation for Kailasa. Donning a bolero-styled jacket bedecked with colorful fabrics and ornate details, Kher’s larger-than-life voice emanated from the main stage as his six-piece band doled out contemporary rock sounds bolstered with traditional appeal from instruments like the tabla and dhol.

For a mellow mood I returned to the Marlin room where I caught the last few songs of L&O, a French quintet fronted by husband and wife Olivier and Laure Slabiak. An operatically-trained chanteuse, Laure sang sweet nothings to the enraptured crowd that drank her in like a steady glass of wine. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always with that delicate air, Laure’s expressions told the story of each song just as much as the lyrics themselves; most of which were about love and butterflies.

While the event did not end until 12:10AM, I wrapped up my evening with the Marcio Local and his troupe. Forming the crux at which samba intersects with soul music (as derived from African-American blues), Marcio Local and his band personified the essence of globalFEST as they fused together Brazilian techniques, polyrhythmic African beats, hip hop elements, and even the melody of a humble ukulele, an instrument that hails from Spain by way of Hawaii. While clearly Brazilian, these refreshing inclusions advocated the intention of globalFEST as an evening of worldly awareness. A true entertainer, Marcio Local returned the love to his audience by repeatedly exclaiming between each song, “I LOVE NEW YORK!” And New York certainly loves you too, Marcio.

When I left Webster Hall that night, I felt hopeful that maybe one day all people can be more like music–connected just the way that rumba Catalana rolled with hip hop originally based upon blues derived from the African beats that double as the foundation for soukous and highlife. Now this would make Jimi smile.

If the cold kept you locked in your bite-size apartment, fear not: Beginning Friday, January 16th, full recordings all of the artists’ performances will be available on-demand by globalFEST media sponsor WNYC at www.wnyc.org. In addition, during the week of January 19th, select performances will be highlighted on WNYC’s Evening Music and New Sounds with John Schaefer, which air’s nightly on WNYC 93.9 FM.

Nicole Velasco

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