Amid Political Change, globalFEST Reaffirms Its Mission In 2017 A one-night festival in New York called globalFEST is a passport to explore compelling artists from five continents. But this year's event came at a moment particularly fraught by politics.

Amid Political Change, A World Music Festival Reaffirms Its Mission

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Let's listen to a preview of some of the international musicians who may be hot in the next couple of years. They showed up last weekend at globalFEST in New York City, an event that's regarded as a snapshot of rising acts in international music, like Betsayda.


LA PARRANDA EL CLAVO: (Singing in Spanish).

INSKEEP: Just keep that going for a moment because NPR Music's Anastasia Tsioulcas was at the festival and is on the line from New York. Hi, Anastasia.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey, Steve. Glad to be here.

INSKEEP: So who is this person we're listening to?

TSIOULCAS: So this is a singer from Venezuela named that Betsayda Machado and her band, which is called La Parranda El Clavo. There's a lot of African sound in her music, a lot of textures, a lot of rhythms and, OK, Venezuela, so how does that fit together? She comes from a community of descendants of former slaves, and they have managed, in their tiny, tiny town of El Clavo, to hold onto their African traditions and their music. And now here they are touring the world.


LA PARRANDA EL CLAVO: (Singing in Spanish).

INSKEEP: So we're talking here not just about musical acts from different places but maybe a single act that draws on music from different places. So what is this festival like? Where is it exactly and who shows up?

TSIOULCAS: So this is in New York City every January, and it is one night at a club called Webster Hall - so three floors, three different kind of mini venues all in the same building. So you've got a couple of thousand people running up and down the stairs all night to hear all of these acts and weigh in. There's a lot of civilians, but there's a significant chunk of the audience who are music industry people - club bookers and artists managers and labels, and they're chasing the next hot thing.

INSKEEP: Do you mean literally running up and down the stairs? Like, are your knees sore now?

TSIOULCAS: Oh, yeah. There's fully training, granola bars, gel packs, you know, to go through the evening.


INSKEEP: Where'd this festival come from?

TSIOULCAS: So it was founded back in 2003 by a trio of very influential bookers in New York City. And they saw in the post-9/11 era a real opportunity and real reason to create a gateway for the music community to book and tour international artists because it became very hard in those years for those artists to get visas to perform in the United States and travel through the United States. And the bookers felt they could create something as a reaction to what they perceived as increasing xenophobia in the United States.

INSKEEP: So this has always been somewhat political in nature. Are there any acts that seem particularly timely, speak to now?

TSIOULCAS: Well, there are certainly always artists who want to talk about the politics of their region or of their background. But, to me, one of the most resonant acts this year was a band from Cuba called Septeto Santiaguero.


SEPTETO SANTIAGUERO: (Singing in Spanish).

INSKEEP: Hear the trumpet going there. That's lovely.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah. And, you know, this is a big dance band. They're from this city on the southeastern tip of the island called Santiago de Cuba. There's nothing political about their music. This is music to party to. But right now when we're just at the brink of a shift of the administrations of the United States and potentially a huge shift in policy towards Cuba and Cubans, you have this openness that we've had in past several years. Who knows what's going to happen next?

INSKEEP: And we should emphasize we do not know what policy President-elect Trump might follow toward Cuba, but he has spoken about a conflict between globalism and nationalism. Where does a music event called globalFEST fit into that discussion?

TSIOULCAS: Well, it's interesting because we can look at this in terms of strictly music, you know. A lot of the artists who appear there are very much artists of 2017. You're hearing hip-hop, you're hearing punk, you're hearing R & B, you're hearing all these things that make music go right now plus tradition, you know, acoustic instruments and very, very ancient ideas and modes and rhythms and all that kind of melded together.

But also, I think we're going to see the same kind of concerns that the founders of this festival were thinking about back in the early 2000s, which is is it going to be harder for artists coming from Africa or South Asia or the Middle East and elsewhere to get a toehold in the United States in the years to come? You know, is this going to be a place where people are going to be open to sounds from around the world or are they really going to be very settled in music from here?

INSKEEP: Were there American artists at globalFEST?

TSIOULCAS: There always are. You know, it's really interesting to me, in the past several years, the bookers of globalFEST have tried to emphasize American regional music. So, for example, last night, there was a Gullah group from South Carolina, but also musicians who grew up in the States, were born in the United States, who draw on their own ethnic backgrounds and traditions. So one of those was an artist who was born and raised in Sudan named Alsarah, but, go figure, she's in Brooklyn now.


TSIOULCAS: And she creates a kind of music that she likes to call Sudanese-Nubian retro-pop.



INSKEEP: OK, so two different regions or cultures of Africa being drawn on from Brooklyn to make what we just heard.

TSIOULCAS: She is a Sudanese artist, so she sings in Arabic. And, of course, there's the sort of pan-Arabic musical tradition and certainly language, but also a very sub-Saharan African-influence style that makes it very much of black Africa.



INSKEEP: Are we hearing in music a bit of the contradiction here? There are a lot of people in this country who are concerned about America's relation with the wider world, but we're, in effect, the global nation that has drawn people from everywhere already.

TSIOULCAS: Yeah. And, you know, how do you honor both of those instincts musically? How do you preserve and nurture regional American traditions that came through the soil? And also how do artists who really are coming from everywhere and call America their home - how do you be of this place and of this time right now and also honor the place that your ancestors came from or that you've come from?

INSKEEP: Anastasia Tsioulcas of NPR Music, thanks very much.

TSIOULCAS: My pleasure, Steve. Thanks.


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