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Alsarah and the Nubatones, Emel Mathlouthi at SummerStage

Sudan, Tunisia and Ethiopia came together on Sunday, August 20th at Rumsey Playfield for a globalFEST alum-stacked lineup at SummerStage featuring Alsarah and the Nubatones (gF 2017), Emel Mathlouthi (globalFEST 2015) and Mulatu Astatke. We gathered stage left anticipating Alsarah and The Nubatones’ opening set while dancing along to Africology DJs. 

Before her set, Emel Mathlouthi mingled with our hangout crew and enjoyed Alsarah and the Nubatones’ set with us. Their trance-like set had the park packed with people swaying to the music. Alsarah played and rearranged a song written by Muna, an artist featured in the documentary Beats of the Antonov. After their appearance at globalFEST, Alsarah and the Nubatones have gone on to perform at MoMa, WOMAD, Roskilde, amongst other world-renowned venues and festivals. After her set, Alsarah joined our hangout crew for a meet and greet stage left where friends, activists, journalists and more globalFEST alum met each other.

 

Emel Mathlouthi echoed throughout the park as she began her set with songs from her last album, “Ensen”. Donning a white dress, she glowed as she explained the backstory to her songs like “Ensen Dhaif,” which translates to hopeless human. You can watch the official video for the track here.

Mulatu Astatke took the stage as the sun set. Many fans know him from the famous Éthiopiques compilations from the 1990s, which are still active today via Buda Musique and producer Francis Falceto. The historic performance unraveled amongst a capacity-filled Rumsey Playfield taking in classics like “Yèkèrmo Sèw” and “Yègellé Tezeta”.

 

Thanks so much to SummerStage for hosting our crew! Do not miss the rest of SummerStage’s season, click here to see the remainder of the shows.

 

 

Nosotros Festival at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

The second annual Nosotros Festival descended on Damrosch Park for Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 27th, 2017. Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff gathered Latinx poets and musicians to showcase the many words and sounds coming out of the diaspora. The culture-creators present at the festival included Bronx-born poet Bonafide Rojas, Young Lords activist and poet Felipe Luciano, spoken word artists La Bruja, and musicians Helado Negro, Xenia Rubinos, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Las Cafeteras (who will be touring in the spring for globalFEST’s The New Golden Age of Latin Music!). 

The night began with an explosive set by Xenia Rubinos, whose latest album Black Terry Cat is a mix of sounds reminiscent of her Latin roots and the flow of Erykah Badu, followed by Helado Negro, who soothingly sang his “Young, Latin & Proud” anthem to an eager audience who bounced every word back at him. Between sets, poets, activists and spoken word artists came out to stand tall amongst their kin to recite poems and reflect on what Latinidad means to them.

 

As the sun set, Hurray for the Riff Raff took the stage with an empowering performance of her latest album, “The Navigator,” strutting on stage with a protest stance and closing the night with a cover of the classic “Como La Flor” by Selena. Since leaving home in the Bronx at 17, Segarra has amounted about 8 releases in between attending hardcore punk shows and hopping freight trains across North America.

Las Cafeteras closed the show with the sizzling spin on Son Jaracho and gave us a preview of what to expect for their spring tour presented by globalFEST, “The New Golden Age of Latin Music”. The masses of attendees approached the stage for this closing performance to be as close as possible and not miss the zapateado. You won’t want to miss them on tour, so see their upcoming tour dates here

gF Hangout: Amir ElSaffar at River to River

globalFEST gathered on Friday, June 16th to host a gF hangout and celebrate the release of Amir ElSaffar’s “Not Two” with the Rivers of Sound ensemble at River to River Festival. Combining styles from Iraqi maqam and American jazz, ElSaffar and his ensemble created a boundless sensory experience in a very site-specific concert.

 

The 17 musicians that make up the Rivers of Sound ensemble use resonance as its governing principle. Included in the ensemble is Dena ElSaffar, who participated in Contrabanned: #MusicUnites at SXSW. As we sprawled on a blanket at 28 Liberty Plaza, we were surrounded by echoing buildings and were lightly touched by falling raindrops.

 

“The highest ideal in maqam music is to reach a state of tarab, or "musical ecstasy," which results from the melting away of borders between a notion of self and other, as performers and audience revel together in the music. As pitches and rhythms become fluid, so do cultural boundaries: elements that traditionally divide musicians and genre-specific modes are re-contextualized in a fresh transcultural soundscape.”

As the crowd grew in the plaza, the experience flourished into a borderless, communal music experience. People came off the streets to sit and listen, closing their eyes to experience tarab without prior instruction, rather just feeling the waves of sound. At the show’s end, we met with ElSaffar, who looked forward to coming back to New York with another performance of “Not Two” at the Skirball in February. Check where Amir will be next on his website here.

 

Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali is a nationally beloved star and one of Mauritania’s foremost musical emissaries. Born into a prominent line of Moorish griot, Noura began her career at age 13 as a supporting vocalist with her stepmother, the legendary Dimi Mint Abba. She was trained in instrumental technique by her grandmother, Mounina, and mastered the ardine, a 9-string harp reserved only for women. Seymali Ould Ahmed Vall, Noura’s father and namesake, was a seminal scholar figure in Mauritanian music who studied Arab classical music in Iraq, devised the first system for Moorish melodic notation, adapted the national anthem, and composed many works popularized by his wife, Dimi. All of these notable accomplishments would later spark Noura's compositional instincts. Reared in this transitive culture where sounds from across the Sahara, the Magreb, and West Africa coalesce, Noura Mint Seymali currently drives the legacy forward as one of Mauritania’s most adventurous young artists.

 

Because of the high travel costs, the band's manager stressed the importance of making a trip to the U.S worthwhile by having a line of performances scheduled in advance in order to help break-even. However, he acknowledged that the U.S. market place is very different in the sense that presenters do not cover these costs for artists, unlike in the European music market place. Through the globalFEST Touring Fund, they were able to secure some funding for their U.S. tour.

There is no other artist in the history of Mauritania that has toured as extensively in the US as Noura Mint Seymali’s band has. Through performances at events like globalFEST (USA), Festival-au-Desert (Mali), Hayy Festival (Egypt), Jeux de Francophonie (France) and Festival Timitar (Morocco) and collaborations with artists like Tinariwen, Bassekou Kouyaté, and Baaba Maal, the band is actively exposing Mauritanian roots music to the world. In a rare merger of cultural authority and experimental prowess, Noura Mint Seymali applies the ancient musical traditions of the griot with a savvy aesthetic engagement in our contemporary moment, emerging as a powerful voice at nexus of a changing Africa.

 

 

Skaramagas Camp in Athens: El Sistema in Greece

by Bill Bragin

Debra Levine and I visited Skaramagas Camp in Athens, a refugee camp comprised of containers on the port, housing about 3,200 migrants, mostly Syrian, Afghani, Pakistani and Kurdish, about half of whom are children. Most of the camp are intact families.

We were visiting via El Sistema Greece, who provide music and dance classes for the kids, one of about 20 formal and informal NGO's operating there. The visit was in relation to a dance piece The Arts Center is co-commissioning by Aakash Odedra Company, #JeSuis, which is his response to the Syrian refugee crisis, Brexit and the questions of what people end up with our collective empathy and who is ignored. He's been visiting Skaramagas. We'll be bringing him and some NYUAD students there during our January term before presenting the World Premiere in Feb. Read more about it here.

We went in the morning and we're told that it's much livelier at night when the sun goes down. It also looks more desolate than it actually was because we were asked not to take identifiable photos of the residents without their permission. Nonetheless, it was pretty desolate. Greece is still coming to terms with the implications of an influx of nearly 1million migrants, for some of whom Greece will become their home, others for whom it will be (hopefully) a jumping off point to other parts of Europe.

For many of the kids, just getting them back into a semi-regimented school environment is a challenge. Nikos, the music teacher we saw at the Hope School, did an admirable job getting 8-10 year olds to use their voices and their bodies in class, and had interesting strategies to teach basic music notation (big mama whole notes taaa, papa half notes taa, and little black baby quartet notes ta), and rhythm exercises.

Thanks to Anis and Dimitra of El Sistema for hosting.

To see more events at NYUAD Arts Center, go here

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