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The Whole World’s Listening

globalFEST at Webster Hall, January 11

First established after 9/11, when rampant xenophobia in the U.S. made visas for foreign musicians almost impossible to obtain, globalFEST this year showcased a smorgasbord of international music, with both relative unknowns and the kinds of world-class stars who fill gigantic stadiums at home. The crowds at Webster Hall last month to see the festival’s 12-artist lineup allayed any fears that the recession has dampened people’s desire to party.

The evening began with a (relatively) local act, the Hot 8 Brass Band, from post-Katrina New Orleans. On trumpets, trombones, and tuba, the 8 played super-funky, updated renditions of traditional funeral music from Second Line parades. Following them was the festival’s oddest act, Tanya Tagaq. A talented Canadian-Inuit former art student, Tagaq delivered a Diamanda Galas–like profusion of spine-chilling grunts, wails, groans, sighs, and screams. Working in the genre of First Nations traditional vocal game-songs, she has already been swooped up by Bjork, whom she accompanied on her Vespertine tour. She has also performed with the Kronos Quartet at Carnegie Hall.

Next in the lineup was the sparkling light-champagne presentation of L&O, a French duo consisting of Laurie Slabiak, a fresh-voiced vocalist with a style reminiscent of the Paris Combo, and her husband, multi-instrumental klezmer musician Olivier Slabiak who is equally adept on violin, guitar, ukelele, and a melodica that looks like something out of a science lab. Combining French roots with a hint of Andalusian soul, the group exhibited sentiment without sentimentality.

The hugely famous (but surprisingly diminutive) Bollywood star Kailash and his ensemble Kailash Kher’s Kailasa, widely known for their Sufi as opposed to Hindu lyrics, took center stage with the effortless ease of a group who has played much bigger venues. (Kailash also moonlights as the judge of his country’s hit TV show Indian Idol.) His songs added a more lighthearted twist to the style of the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, his main inspiration, but lacked Nusrat’s undertone of menace and suspense.

The undisputed surprise hit of the night was the
astonishingly original arrangements of La Troba Kung-Fú—young Catalans who took rumba Catalina to a whole new level using accordions, electric and acoustic guitars, a drummer, and even a female conga player. The ingénues of the evening, they left the audience shaking their heads wondering why no one has yet signed them to a record contract.

But the evening wasn’t all a youthfest, as proved by Tobago’s Calypso Rose, the prolific sixty-nine-year-old singer and songwriter. (She is the composer of over eight hundred songs.) Rose has managed to be crowned both Queen and King of Calypso, a welcome nose-thumbing at the sexism too often found in that music. At Webster, she brought the house down, singing scathing lines like, “A man is a man, any man / Even with a face like a frying pan can give a girl satisfaction,” shaking her still-working mojo to emphasize the point.


Ellen Pearlman


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2009

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