Review: Globalfest’s World Music for a Connected World


Grand Tapestry is an alliance of hip-hop-loving Indian classical musicians with a Los Angeles rapper, Eligh. The group’s main composer is Alam Khan, who plays the 25-stringed sarod and also runs a laptop; he’s the son of the renowned sarod player Ali Akbar Khan. Grand Tapestry’s set veered among Indian classical duets by Mr. Khan and Salar Nader on tabla; rock-ish instrumentals with Mr. Nader on trap drums instead; and, most promisingly, the rapid-fire, positive-thinking raps from Eligh backed by the two musicians.

Mohsen Namjoo’s songs are steeped in Persian classical music and poetry, merged freely with raucous Western rock. He was an acclaimed and sometimes controversial songwriter in Iran who has lived in exile in the West after being sentenced, while abroad, to five years in prison for setting Quran verses to music. Even across the language barrier — his songs are in Persian — his commitment was unmistakable, and his chameleonic voice could hold the nuanced clarity of Persian classical singing or turn into a rocker’s howl, an old man’s cackle or a theatrical sob.

There were smart echoes of tropicalía, Brazil’s iconoclastic (and dictatorship-defying) music of the late 1960s, in the set by Ava Rocha and her band: amiable melodies, poetic lyrics, hints of Brazilian rhythms and taut arrangements that sometimes let the guitars get noisy. Her performance suggested a playful, elusive ritual. She arrived onstage bearing a decanter of what looked like wine, and drank some of it; before she finished her finale, she balanced it on her head. In between, she sang with sultry nonchalance and traced slow-motion gestures both elaborate and inscrutable.

Flor de Toloache, the New York mariachi band that won the Latin Grammy for Best Ranchero/Mariachi Album in November, mingled mariachi tradition with tangents of their own, like Andrews Sisters harmonies, occasional lyrics in English and that Nirvana song.

Other performers hewed closer to tradition. The Iberi Choir, from (the country) Georgia, sang gorgeously harmonized songs, many of them a cappella, with convoluted passages of eerie dissonance; one song had lyrics dating back to the 12th century. Miramar — with lead singers from Puerto Rico and Tennessee and a Chilean-American keyboardist and composer — devoted itself to urbanely lovelorn Puerto Rican-style boleros, some vintage and some written by group members.

Eva Salina lent her poised, lustrous voice to complexly morose songs from the Balkans in a duo with the Serbian-style accordionist Peter Stan, who backed her with oompah chords and puckish, skittering obbligatos. And Thornetta Davis, a Detroit blues singer, brought backup singers (from her church, she noted) and a horn section for a hearty, formidable set of optimistic blues — even when the optimism came from finally ditching a no-good man.

For a musician in the 21st century, those traditions are a matter of choice, not the result of isolation, nostalgia or birthright. Even in a connected world, they’re strong enough to draw new practitioners with their music alone.

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