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Perking Up --
--and right along.
Things have gotten positively lively around here, on the Louisville worldbeat scene.
Earlier this month, The Kentucky Museum of Arts and Crafts on Market Street hosted the São Paulo Underground, Brazilians (plus Chicagoan Rob Mazurek) creating sound in the way of experimental jazz and electronic. At Zazoo's on October 3 Cabana Café, also from São Paulo, will be perking with Appalatin.
Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone, here last two years ago with Malian musician Mama Sissoko, will be making a return visit to the City October 26, tracing the roots of Appalachia to the sounds of Saharan nation of Mali. Zakir Hussain was also here three years ago with Bela Fleck & Edgar Meyer, each incorporating their particular sounds into the mix. He will be returning to the Kentucky Center for the Arts on Oct. 12.
Jared Zarantonello has a number of projects going at the Americana Center. JZ has plans for putting together a CD of all the great immigrant musicians from around town, with the proceeds to go to the musicians themselves. The recording is being done now, with the CD hopefully to be made available through one or more of our great Louisville coffee shops and their proprietors. (Any takers?)
Jared is also setting up a new, low-wattage FM station for the community's immigrant musicians. (A pretty super idea.) All he needs now are approval for the station and volunteers. (Any takers?) He will be leaving us early next year to spend a year in London, so it will be up to the rest of us energetic, visionary Louisvillians to man these great things he's getting started for us.
Of course, Labor Day was World Fest, at the Belvedere (in the rain). That last was the sad part, and that, while the first half was sunny, a number of the great musicians and acts slated to perform during the second half did not get to. Still, a number of attendees stuck it out after the sun went down through the drench, and you could see after a while that it was, for them, a lot like going in swimming: you mind it for the first few minutes, but then you acclimate to being wet and then no longer notice it and just get down to enjoying the music. After a while salsa dancing could be seen going on, in what were near-flood levels, with all that water becoming part of the party. People broke out slip-n-slide mats and turned it into a downright fun spree.
Those who did choose to stick things out were rewarded by the fact that, when it was time for Appalatin to play, the weather magically cleared for them. Now we know for sure: they really do bring the sunshine. It was really good luck that two people who did get to go on included Long Thanth Nguyen, from Saigon – justly a celebrity in his homeland for his work on electric guitar and one-stringed violin – and 'the Professor' a.k.a, Muhamad Braco Skopljak, who was prominent as a keyboardist in his native Bosnia before coming here.
Long Thanth has lived in Louisville for the past nineteen years but, incredibly, this was his very first appearance at a World Fest! We certainly hope there will be more. For those who did not get to hear him this time, there will be an opportunity early next year at one of the Mayor's new series of lunches, open to the public, to be held monthly at Metro Hall, showcasing various musical performers from all across town. This is great news for international music in Louisville, as it will provide an important forum for introducing underexposed worldbeat groups in the area. Sudanese Rebaba Project will be appearing at the November 1 edition of the Mayor's lunch series.
The Professor, similarly, has been in the Louisville area for the past twenty years; his appearance at this year's World Fest showcased a number of his young students on keyboard, performing a variety of styles, in duet with the Professor, from Classical to ragtime to Beatles to standards, Bosnian – French – and others, while a stagehand was trying to keep the rain off the roof above them. Their upbeat renditions for this year's WF have been posted and can be seen online. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWQqforMfYE
During his time in Louisville the Professor has been a regular pianist at the legendary Jack Fry's, as well as at both the City's historic and elegant grand hotels, the Seelbach and the Brown. It is a shame that in recent years popular taste has neglected to do justice to the pleasures of solo piano, so that a lot of piano venues are as a result drying up. However, we are lucky in that the Professor will be going on, weekly, at Louis Le Français (the venue for haute cuisine in New Albany). Currently the Professor is playing there each Friday, with the possibility of regular Sunday brunch appearances' being added in the near future.
As part of the sunny part, we heard from Bollywood and Bharatnatyam, but during the rain, we had a rare opportunity to see Vietnamese pop – a hybrid, American-Vietnamese sound combining Eastern lyrical grace with US, R&R edge – courtesy of a group that usually only plays at weddings and other private functions. This was an especially rare event, since they were scheduled to appear at World Fest last year but, ironically, were rained out then. This year, despite the rain, they got to play their full set. Yet another treat was husband-and-wife duo Legna & Yoise, originally Cuban but more recently from nearby Lexington, who favored us with their beautiful guitar instrumentals and vocals.
Haitian Maestro J. was on tap, doing his special brand of jazz; as well as Misha Fagin, bringing us, all the way from Russia, his enchanting virtuosity on gypsy guitar. Misha is perhaps one of the City's lesser-known cultural treasures – and it is a shame that more people didn't get to hear him play this time. And, for the first time, World Fest featured the local Native American dance and drum troupe who call themselves 'the Kentucky American Indian Resource Community Center.' Not enough is being heard from this too-quickly fading aspect of American heritage.
The Festival's closing act, sadly, did not come off, due to the weather; what it should have been was Eileen Ivers, a quite famous, top-notch Celtic fiddle-player (always a stand-out in a world of too-often-just-mediocre Celtic fiddle-playing). Eileen has appeared in Louisville before – and hopefully will again before very long.
Coming up, as of this writing: International Fest, the weekend of September 29, in Bowling Green. For this event, the Bowling Green event organizers, needing African participation at their annual worldbeat show, turned to Louisville to supply it. They got Louisville artists even we here in Louisville do not get to see that much:
First, the Sudanese Rebaba Project will be there. Next, Maurice Moro, from South Sudan (actually playing in three slots for International Fest), on a likembe, which is a type of thumb-piano similar to a mbira (if you know what that is). Thumb-pianos are to be found all over Africa, albeit called by different names. Performers on this instrument are soloists; it is Africa's proto-jazz instrument par excellence and is regarded by Africans as Africa's classical, most elevated form of music, and it is altogether lovely (think African Queen?)
Thirdly, present at Bowling Green's Festival will have been the two, recently-teamed-up groups from Louisville, Sabari Bengoma – a Guinean-style drum troupe headed by area drum teacher Baba Kenyatte, and Christa Twaa's West African Dance Company. These guys are amazing!! Exciting.
While the drumming part of the group have been together for a while, the dancers just formed earlier this year. They have performed for the Kentucky Center for the Arts last April and at the Americana Fest earlier this year. What is part of the excitement about this team is that they come from Louisville's West End and are not African immigrants, but African Americans who are inspired by pride in their African heritage and are drawing on it for their own artistic direction.
Other Louisville representation at BG International Fest comes from the Desert Rose Collective, a collaboration formed at the Desert Rose Middle Eastern Showcase staged at Zazoo's. This event was designed to get some of those Middle Eastern musicians who leave Louisville every weekend to play in Chicago and Michigan to stay home and play HERE for a change. Desert Rose's brother keyboardists Haidar and Mohammad Ali, of from Arabia, say that they find it exciting to be playing as accompaniment for Raqia and Fairoza of the American group el Hamsa Belly Dance of New Albany because the art form of belly dance has faded in its native Middle East but been taken up avidly here. ^hey find themselves enthralled to see what the women here have done with this ancient style of dance.
Also scheduled to take the stage in Bowling Green is Louisville's Las Flamencas, a group comprised of former members of Flamenco Talk and the now-defunct Camino Flamenco.
Worldbeat: such an intoxicating brew brewing: not only the fusing and tasting of all the planet's various strains of music; but in equal part what percolates in and throughout a community from emergent interplay among all its musical players. It's really starting to pick up, all the stuff that has begun to stir and come together, here, now. Quite a moment.
Also local clubs seem to be interested in having immigrant musicians opening up for various acts so they can build a following. Time will tell if that takes off. Hopefully Maurice Moro will be playing his likembe sometime soon.