An annual production called globalFest recently appeared at New York's Public Theater, presenting 13 musicians/groups from around he world. Flooding three venues in the theater, it was a party indeed, with the full variety of talents and forms traced from nearly as many influences as there are traditions. What was most interesting was the way in which these traditions merged.
An American contribution exhibited the fusion of traditions that musicians work with - Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars. Klezmer music grew from the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. Like jazz, it's based on improvisation; some would call it a type of jazz. After the tradition faded in America, it's enjoyed a revival in recent decades. London's All Stars takes these distinctly Yiddish sounds and combines them with the flowery flights of Dixieland jazz. The result is a giddy party music that might suit a good-natured, drunken victory parade. With brass, reeds and drums, the All Stars blow as cool as you can get - it's terrific, with the front man jumping up and down on stage, and sometimes blowing the ram's horn.
They were joined this evening by two other extraordinary groups. Brazilian Drummers call Maracatu New York is a troupe of drummers in the Brazilian tradition. Maracatu has its origins in slaves' ceremonies, when enslaved Africans crowned a king with ritual and performance. The second group, Kol Isha, is made up of eight women singing Hasidic music. Their name refers to traditional religious law that prevented women from singing in public. Filling the large stage, the three groups radiated a sort of dizzy ecstasy.
A second example of successful fusion was Roxane Butterfly's Worldbeats, which presented a piece named Djellabah Groove that combined tap, flamenco and North African music. Mlle. Butterfly herself would sometimes speak poetry, and sometimes dance, with the occasional upstage projection. With five instruments behind them, she and her two dancers wove the forms together. We could hear the Arabic motifs snaking on and out of the music, embracing the familiar Western sounds. When her dancers execute a sort of dialog in dance, sans musical accompaniment, we feel the excitement of performance reduced to raw improvisation.
What's so encouraging about these fusions of form is that the sources are recognizable in the work. The danger of World music is that it will create a bland mash with no identifiable origins. But here, it certainly doesn't. The Arabic, the Yiddish, keep their color, and these colors are presented alongside others.
globalFest was presented by The Public Theater, World Music Institute, and World Music/CRASHarts. We want more of this.
- Steve Capra