Thursday, September 12, 2002
The words "world" and "music" each convey big things and many meanings. In putting them together for the Monterey World Music Festival this weekend, organizers had the difficult but enjoyable task of editing down from a long list to create its stellar international lineup.
Last September, the events of 9/11 nearly cancelled the carefully organized plans of David Clutier, director of the Cultural Council of Monterey. The fifth anniversary of the World Music Festival-his pet project-involved dozens of international musicians; in the wake of the attacks, many had trouble getting visas. Weeks of snarled air traffic made things worse. To make peace with a faithful audience who had come to Monterey to see the likes of Tarika and Correo Aereo, only to find out the bands were stranded en route, the entire festival was offered for free.
The 2002 World Music Festival is back as strong as ever, and joyfully celebrating what Clutier calls the "global consonances," or unifying spirit of music in all forms.
Friday night is devoted to music from around India; Saturday features European music; and Sunday highlights a vaguely African tone. If there''s one thing common to all the performers, however, it''s the idea of returning to ancestral roots to find musical inspirations.
Monterey Conference Center
Ahluwalia''s birth in Bihar, India set in motion a lifelong interest in traditional ghazals, or love songs (the word means "to talk to women"). After moving to Canada as a young girl, she knew she wanted to sing but didn''t get a chance until she was in her late 20s. She returned to India and studied Indian folk and classical music for 10 years until she felt confident she could perform and record. Her first full CD, Kashish Attraction, was released last year. Ahluwalia''s voice is magical-a sweet soprano.
Indian music can sometimes sound harsh to Western ears, but Ahluwalia''s songs, both traditional and original, are smooth and soothing. Musicians on Kashish have played Indian music with masters such as Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ravi Shankar.
Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra
Uttal''s musical background makes his truly a world music. His new CD, Mondo Rama, was inspired by travels to four corners of the globe. Well-known in the past 15 years or so for a tasty fusion of Hindu kirtan chants, reggae, rock and jazz, Uttal is something of a mystical leader to a horde of devoted fans. His first influences were rockers like The Beatles and Bob Dylan, until he heard Indian legend Ali Akbar Khan and became his student. He moved to India and soaked up that culture. In the early 1990s, he put together the Pagan Love Orchestra, musicians who shared his love of a huge range of music, from Brazilian to electronic. Their take on The Beatles "Tomorrow Never Knows" adds a prayer chant to Shiva, a Hindu god, which easily gets stuck in your head. Uttal''s sound is certainly unique, his voice is reminiscent of Sting and he sings passionately in English and Sanskrit.
custom house plaza
Yuri Yunakov Ensemble
From Bulgaria, in the southeastern corner of Europe near Turkey, comes a hugely successful (yet government-censored) style of lively music called "wedding music," championed by Yuri Yunakov. If you can imagine a blend of jazz, rock, Arabic and gypsy music, set on high speed, and dominated by saxophone and accordion, you''ll have just a inkling of Yunakov''s sound.
His Trajika wedding band of the 1970s caused a sensation where hundreds of uninvited wedding guests would show up just to celebrate. Before he became so famous and was jailed twice for performing "communist" songs, he was a professional boxer.
On his 1998 CD, BaladaBulgarian Wedding Music, most of the tunes are fast-paced and complicated, with a mix of traditional (gajda bag-pipes, kaval flute) and Western (saxophone, electric guitar) instruments. Of course, the few lyrics-sung at breakneck pace to match the beats-are romantic in nature, this being wedding music. Some dance numbers have been known to last four to five hours each.
This group technically comes from the Loire Valley in France but its spirit has immigrated in from North Africa, Spain, and other parts of France. Denis Péan, smoky-voiced lead singer, and Richard Borreau, violinist, formed Lo Jo in 1982 and the band attracted pieces of jazz, cabaret, even reggae. Skim through Mojo Radio from 1997 and you can read lyrics in Spanish, French and English. Jump to 2000 for Boheme de Cristal and the band has grown with rappers, dancers, and exotic instruments like the kora and tinde (African harp and drum), and harmonium.
If your idea of Scandinavian music is either Bjork or ABBA, you may not be prepared for Garmarna, but you''ll be pleasantly surprised. Vocalist Emma Hardelin holds center stage with pure tones reminiscent of Sinead O''Connor, while a Swedish rock storm swirls around her in the form of guitars, bass, violin, and drums, reminiscent of U2. Shall we call it "Nordi-Celtic?"
Fine, until you discover the young Stockholm band released a CD simply called Hildegard von Bingen last year, dedicated to the early 20th century nun who sang chants in Latin. Hardelin dug into the verses, the band slowed its almost-punk tempo, and the result is joyous. Garmarna''s 1998 CD, Vengeance, was a big hit in Europe, with most of the songs sung in Swedish, based on traditional myths.
san carlos cathedral
Rounding out the European portion of the festival is this special group based in Texas who perhaps should have been born in medieval Ireland. Altramar is a quartet of early music scholars who play handcrafted instruments and sing to please the angels, not to mention their Celtic ancestors. Crossroads of the Celts, the band''s 1998 CD, brings together David Stattelman and Angela Mariani''s heavenly voices (traditional lyrics in the complex Hiberno-Latin) and the calming effects of two Celtic lyres, the cruit and crwth, vielle (violin cousin), guittern (fiddle cousin), and harp, played by Chris Smith and Jann Cosart. Music and poetry fit for the bards of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Brittany will ring from San Carlos Cathedral.
Jewish culture is deeply infused with music and words. Most religious texts are both sung and read. Here, two members of the popular Klezmatics, Frank London and Lorin Sklamberg, plus jazz musician Rob Schwimmer perform zmiros, thoughtful and playful traditional Jewish music sung at the Sabbath meal. Nigunim is a slightly later, Eastern European, Hasidic version of the spiritual songs. In fact, the liner notes of the Zmiros Project CD calls the genre a "baffling Jewish creation: religious drinking songs for the holy sing-along." Brass instruments, especially London''s trumpet, abound, following the mesmerizing trail of Sklamberg''s Yiddish vocals. Pianist Schwimmer, who has worked with Stevie Wonder and Antonio Carlos Jobim, adds a modern touch with his keyboard skills and arrangements.
Anouar Brahem Trio
A quiet and pensive feeling pervades the music of Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem. At moments, it sounds like fiery be-bop and sultry flamenco in bed together. In the next track, melancholy Arabic tradition mixes with smooth classical music. Brahem has described the oud (aka lute) as the "Sultan of the takh," or Arabic orchestra. The songs on Brahem''s sixth CD, Astrakan Café, have titles like "Parfum de gitane," "Dar es Salam" and "Astara," and put you in a meditative state. The oud, clarinet and bendir drum snake beautiful rhythms and improvisational melodies through ancient, instrumental Tunisian songs.
It''s not so much that Tama is a band, but a sonic stew of all the members'' musical skills. Primarily tinged with West African rhythms, the music rings with English guitarist Sam Mills'' pop background, and new singer Mamani Keita''s Malian roots. Tama means "to walk" in Bambara, the language of singer-ngoni (harp) player Tom Diakite, which is fitting for the four musicians who travel so much and incorporate a nomadic African feel to recordings. One noticeable facet of Tama''s sound is how sinuous the vocals are and how festive, yet introspective, the tracks are. Percussionist Djanuno Dabo lays down a solid base with congas, talking drums, and djembes, with guest flutist Malik "Magic" Mezzadri adding a little jazz.
Lawn seating outdoors is free, advance tickets are $15/concert; $20/concert at the door. Call the Cultural Council at 622-9060 for tickets and details.