The world comes to Webster Hall

By Lee Ann Westover

On Sunday, Jan. 11, as hundreds of booking agents and arts presenters converge in midtown for the Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference (APAP), the sixth annual globalFEST takes place at Webster Hall, and will feature over a dozen international bands.

Over the APAP Conference weekend, US programmers will book many—if not most—of the artists they will host throughout the 2009-10 season. For the artists who have the opportunity to showcase, this weekend can be the source of their bread and butter for the entire year.

Co-organizer Bill Bragin (DJ and Director of Public Programming at Lincoln Center) says, “It’s one thing to see a showcase in a really controlled setting, but it’s a completely different experience when it’s open to the general public.

At globalFEST, the professionals can really understand how a real audience is responding to music that is often in languages that are unfamiliar…rhythms that are unfamiliar…scales that are unfamiliar. So we’ve put it into a fully produced, fun event.”

Bragin, Shanta Thake of Joe’s Pub and Isabel Soffer of the World Music Institute culled through hundreds of submissions to come up with the carefully curated group of globalFEST performers. Groups range from large, festival-scale acts to duos and trios. The variety accommodates a range of arts presenter budgets, but will also make for a colorful evening of musical discovery for ticket-holders.

Just over a week before the concert, Afro-beat luminary Femi Kuti was forced to cancel his appearance at this year’s globalFEST, as well as much of his accompanying North American tour. In spite of the Kuti’s absence, the event still features thousands of watts of star power. Bragin adds, “We are so excited to present artists who are legendary within their own communities, but who aren’t necessarily well-known within the world music sphere.”

India’s Kailash Kher will appear with his band Kailasa. Kher is a hugely popular Bollywood singer who appears as a judge on the Indian Idol TV show. Says Bragin, “That’s the kind of stature we are talking about.” In a musical sphere which can skew as bubble-gum as our native radio, Kher’s perfectly imperfect voice are of the sort that one doesn’t generally get from a hero, yet still makes the girls go wild.

Calypso Rose has written over 800 songs in her long career. Her first hit, “Fire in Me Wire” (1966), endures as a calypso classic. Although she is more advanced in age than many of the other acts on the bill, she will inspire and energize the audience with eternally youthful Caribbean rhythms and her gently worn, wise-woman pipes.

Although Tanya Tagaq’s Inuit throat singing originated as a way for her to stave off homesickness while away at college, she has elevated her personal art to the international stage. As well as performing under her own billing, she has appeared with the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall and with Bjork on her 2001 Vespertine tour and subsequent two albums, “Medulla,” and “Drawing Restraint 9”).

Along with the more established stars, the presenters of globalFEST are proud to have found a handful of groups that are not only new to the US market, but have only recently debuted in their native markets are well.

Bragin doesn’t exaggerate when he says that Brazilian samba-soul artist Marcio Local “sounds like a young Jorge Ben.” He continues, “Even within Brasil, he’s a very new artist, but the record just blew us all away.”

Barcelona’s Rumba Catalan combo, La Troba Kung-fu, performed at Lincoln Center’s Midsummer Night’s Swing this year. Bragin says, “It’s such infectious music! People who embraced Manu Chao are really going to respond to them.”

GlobalFEST has always had a strong francophone presence, due to the support of the French Embassy’s Department of Cultural Services. This year France’s musical spectrum will be represented by L&O’s haunting gypsy jazz/pop, Paris-based Shanbehzadeh Ensemble’s Iranian trance music and Marseille’s Watcha Clan. Watcha Clan’s lead vocalist Sistah K overlays her own Jewish-Algerian traditions over contemporary afropop and funk in bombastic fashion.

GlobalFEST is also committed to presenting US artists in the context of world music.

Hot 8 Brass Band brings hip-hop and funk flavor to traditional New Orleans brass music. Their electric performance was captured in Spike Lee’s 2006 documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

Although several members of Occidental Brothers Dance Band International hail from Ghana, the group was formed in Chicago. OBDBI bill themselves as playing “Central and West African dance music–specializing in soukous, Highlife, Rumba, Dry Guitar, and other delights from the great continent.” They have shared the stage with afropop legend Oliver Mtukudzi as well as Andrew Bird.

Brooklyn’s own Chicha Libre round out the lineup perhaps the most eclectic mix: surf and psychedelic pop influenced by Peruvian music from the Amazon interspersed with original French-language tunes. Band members include One Ring Zero’s Joshua Camp, Combustible Edison’s Nicholas Cudahy and Olivier Conan and Vincent Douglas – the co-owners of Park Slope’s tiny shrine to world music, Barbes.

This year, for the first time, WNYC will host webcasts from globalFEST, bringing this international celebration to national and international audiences. When asked what inspires him to continue building globalFEST, Bragin responds, “We are three partners who are all committed to presenting international artists, and who want to turn our colleagues on to artists that we think might make sense in their own contexts. We are doing it with no self-interest, and with the goal of expanding awareness of world music in general.”

Listen to music samples from all the artists at globalfest-ny.org.