02/19/2015 01:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Keep Singing (2 videos)


It took over an hour for the sound check. Now you've got a full house enraptured by your music. You're going full throttle, the audience is totally with you, and then--
No amplification. Nada.

I present to you two performances I captured, and consider myself fortunate to have done so.
In each case, the artists hardly missed a beat, and not only carried the show, but got the audience screaming for more.

Most recently, Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi performed at GlobalFEST. (She had previously appeared in NYC at Crossing the Line fest and last Oct as part of the highly recommended Live@365 series.) Webster Hall's Studio room was packed. Described in the program as "Electro-inspired voice of Tunisia's Arab Spring" she was accompanied by synths and drums and as such she was delivering a solid show, and keeping the audience of presenters and other music biz types swaying and clapping. I was having a tough time shooting in the crowded room, and after the 5th person bumped into me and ruined the shot, I got ticked off enough to rudely elbow my way into the front of the room. And that's when it happened. The PA imploded. And that's how I caught Emel's most engaging song of the set; one in which her warmth and humor really shone. My thanks to Michael Jones for taking my camcorder sound and making it listenable.

Emel Unplugged from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

On a larger scale, the next video is from quite a few months back, when I was covering the excellent Colours of Ostrova Festival in Czech Republic. It's a mammoth festival by any standards, with multiple stages spread over many acres, all dominated by the Dolni Vitkovice, the rusting hulk of a now defunct mining and refinery complex. On the outer fringes of the site, a tent holding several hundred people also had some of the more intriguing acts. It also had extremely challenging lights and sound given my equipment. But again, I found myself attempting to cover Lo Còr de la Plana and Ve Zou Via, two primarily a capella and percussion groups (Ve Zou Via does use an accordion) collaborating on one stage. The 6 men and 4 women were pretty much tearing it apart (though I found the volume to be overdriven) when the electricity blew. The tent was suddenly illuminated by natural light, and within a minute the singers had decided which song to sing, came to the front of the stage and proceeded to sing a most soulful song, electronic distortion free.

when the lights went out in Ostrava from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

It is worth noting the extreme musical/cultural differences of these performances. One is purely monodic (once the PA blows and the synths cut out) and the other is polyphonic.

For more about Emel Mathlouthi:
For more about GlobalFEST:
For more about Colours of Ostrava:
For more about Lo Còr de la Plana:
For more about Ve Zou Via:

For more of Michal's original world music videos, visit: