Taking the Pulse of World-Class Beats in New York City
Last month, despite frigid temperatures and a significant snowstorm, performing arts lovers from around the world gathered all over New York City in clubs, auditoriums, universities, museums, cultural centers, and even temples and churches to experience the latest of the latest trends and tendencies in music, theatre and dance. These performances were an integral part of the 60th edition of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference, five intense days in which thousands of artists, curators and performing arts presenters come together annually at trade fair booths, panels, seminars and above, all, the showcases.
One of the most important reasons for attending APAP is that it offers a magnificent opportunity to take the pulse of trends in international music right at their very start, as well as get a good sense of current developments in the performing arts industry.
To start this process off, it is always a pleasure to initiate my whirlwind APAP days with a conversation with Mario Garcia Durham, the association’s President and Director. In 2017, one of the uppermost concerns is how the performing arts industry can respond to the current political climate, especially in terms of polarized positions regarding immigrants and diverse peoples.
García Durham focused emphatically on the importance of a sense of respect in order to nurture an environment of tolerance between peoples of different faiths and world viewpoints. At the same time, he highlighted the role artists and performing arts presenters can play in the process, indicating that it is important to recognize that even as peoples from very different background, we can acknowledge that we share “...fundamental values, such as respect, understanding, and compassion.”
Garcia-Durham also emphasized APAP’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity in the cultural curatorial world, a commitment we witnessed in the plenary sessions in which intersectional artists played a central role and illustrated how diverse elements with which we identify, for example, our discapacities, gender and faith, affect our lives and arts in every sense.
After conversing with Garcia-Durham, it’s on ... yes, to the music! I usually divide my time between several key events including Winter Jazz Fest, Globalfest and the nights presented at Drom, one of the Lower East Side’s hot, hot global music clubs.
This year, the 13th edition Winter Jazzfest extended to five full days, but the heart of the festival are the two marathon nights where concerts go from 6pm to 2am throughout jazz clubs of all sizes in Manhattan. Many bands share new and upcoming projects, and it is heartening to see the fine state of the state of art of vanguard and experimental jazz.
International jazz is as always well represented at Winter Jazz Fest, and it was a treat to experience Shabaka and the Ancestors, an ensemble led by British tenor sax player Shabaka Hutchings that features several South African musicians. The concert highlighted their groundbreaking new album, “Wisdom of the Elders”, and included moving and artful moments such when vocalist Siyabonga Mthembu chanted “We need new hymns. We need new songs. We need new prayers.”
On the Latin side of jazz, it was fascinating to see the rich interchange in the trio led by French-Cuban Harold López-Nussa, who engaged in an intricate and intimate dialogue with his brother Ruy Adrián López-Nussa on drums and Cuban bass player Julio Cesar Gonzalez. Their musical conversation was heavily influenced by Africa, guided by Lopez-Nussa’s latest album which focuses strongly in particular on rhythms from Mozambique.
On the other extreme, at least in terms of number of musicians, Winter Jazzfest also presented concerts of very large ensembles, such as the great wind orchestra Out of Ra: Afrohorn Superband, in which saxes to trumpets to trombones began a superb set with the the sacred calls of drums and Yoruba chant by Afro-cuban Román Díaz. This project, co-founded by Mexican-American drummer Francisco Mora-Catlett, finds a common ground between the Arkestra Sun Ra’s Afrofuturism (in which Mora-Catlett played), Cuban folklore, Mexican surrealism and African mysticism in intense rhythmic descargas.
At Drom in the Lower East Side, the “Secret Planet” showcase presented by record labels Barbés and Electric Cowbell showcased amongst other musicians an international collective of women led by musicians and educators from different parts of the Americas called Ladama (whose name is taken from a play on the Spanish words for “the dame”, i.e., “la dama”.) Ladama’s mission is to construct community through music, and they offered us a beautiful musical paseo through Latin America set to PanAmerican beats. That same night at Drom, Secret Planet also presented Underground System, which gave us of a taste of the fierce and vibrant qualities of female-led afrobeat funk and grooves.
Finally, we closed our 2017 APAP experience with Globalfest and its 12 bands and three stages at Webster Hall, which having been founded in 2001 after September 11th, is more relevant than ever in its mission of presenting global, inclusive music. As usual, Globalfest shared an abundant feast of international rhythms both old and new. We truly reveled in the beats of the veteran septet Septeto Santiaguero, iconic ensemble from Santiago de Cuba that set us dancing to the wonderful creole beats of that eastern tip of the island which given the city’s location, historically incorporate both Jamaican and Haitian influences.
Alsarah and the Nubatones, led by immensely charismatic Sudanese artist Alsarah, singing in Arabic, takes the region’s Nubian ancient and retro music into the 21st century propelling the tunes with a contemporary, edgy Afro-diasporic touches.
But at the heart of Globlafest are finding out about artists that are not on our radar: In this sense, a fabulous discovery was Jojo Abot, a striking and visually fascinating artist whose smooth electro-Ghanaian vocals with touches of reggae induced a special kind of trance that had us swaying in dreamy reverie. And the Afro-Venezuelan ensemble Betsayda Machado y la Parranda El Clavo shared a joyous sound from their small home town, a city about an hour away from the capital that was founded by African slaves. Their parranda music, created to celebrate different saints, is an effervescent witness to the strength of music and its possibilities for resistance and persistence.
We finally ended our Globalfest night just how we began - dancing! The official Globalfest after party highlighted Red Baraat, an eight-member Brooklyn-based band that riffs off of the double-headed dhol drum and northern Indian wedding music, surrounds it in hip-hop and hot hot jazzy horns, and finally steeps the whole musical shebang in bhangra beats to concoct an irresistible sonic delight.
APAP 2017 left us with a renewed sense of inspiration that will affect its participants even beyond its accomplishments as a premier talent market: we see, experience and share in strengthening the infrastructure that allows us come together as one in the marvelous arts of the human family.
To further explore the music of this year’s APAP and hear the complete conversation with Mario García-Durham, check Beat Latino’s APAP 17 edition. See you at APAP 2018!
Check out APAP 2017 sounds in this special edition of Beat Latino.