To fill a hole in the global music scene in America, a trio of producers created globalFEST six years ago. It was launched as a one-time event; the sold-out success prompted another, and another, until this year, where it returns to New York's Webster Hall on Sunday, January 11, at 7 pm. Moving from the tight hallways of the Public Theater to the East Village club gave the twelve performing artists more room to play, albeit didn't do a thing about the event selling out -- expect more of the same this year.
Unfortunately Nigerian Afrobeat singer Femi Kuti has to pull out of this year's festivities, due to illness. New York-based Brooklyn Qawwali Party -- a jazz tribute band to the music of Pakistani great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan -- has taken over his slot in the programming. I've had the pleasure of seeing them a number of times over the past few years, and while Afrobeat and Qawwali are sonically worlds apart, they due share a common ground as trance-producing music forms. They are both devotional in intention (Qawwali, part of the Sufi lineage; Afrobeat, part of the Yoruba lineage), and both are serious dance musics.
The event comes at the tail end of the annual APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) conference, giving presenters from around the world an opportunity to check out international music acts. While I refer the reader to the website for the full line-up and venue information, I'd like to further comment on a few acts that I've already seen live.
I first caught sight of Watcha Clan in Paris late last winter, playing with Transglobal Underground on my first night in the city. Tired and jetlagged after a four-hour runway delay and seven-hour overnight flight, I rallied to watch this ingenious band throw down a blend of electronica-based tracks borrowing from the Touaregs, flamenco, Balkan music, and Sephardic folk tunes. None of it was forced, and lead singer Sistah K was on fire throughout the set. I introduced their music to the producers over at the Droma Music Festival, whereupon they traveled to New York this past September to play in the States for the first time; that parlayed into this gig, so I'm especially excited to see them for a third time in the past ten months.
Another that catches my eye is L&O, featuring Oliver Slabiak of French gypsy outfit Les Yeux Noirs. He founded that band with his brother, and I had the chance to watch them at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival some seven years ago. They are an exceptionally driven live band, and with Slabiak's wife joining him for this new project, it should be special. (FYI, Les Yeux Noirs is playing at the Highline Ballroom on the following night.)
Lastly, two bands I have not seen live but look forward to: Spain's La Troba Kung-fú mixes cumbia and salsa into their dubbed-out Catalana beats; I missed them at Lincoln Center's outdoor series this summer, but watching their YouTube clips and hearing reviews of that show make this a must-see. And while the Hot 8 Brass Band's album did not especially impress me, they seem like the type of outfit that will heat things up live. The hardest part of any globalFEST is deciding what to not see, as so many special events are happening in the venue's three stages at once. Regardless, that's a worthwhile complaint.