Global Groove

by wjw on September 21, 2011

It’s September in New Mexico, and that means Globalquerque, our yearly festival of music where hardly anybody sings in English.

There are three stages with bands rotating on and off all the time, which means that wherever you are, you’re missing two-thirds of the music.   This also means that however much fun you are having, you’re always nagged by the suspicion that you might be having a better time if you were somewhere else.

In addition to the music, there are booths huckstering local arts and crafts, and other booths that turn out overpriced street food from places like Haiti and Thailand. ( Usually by the time you get there, they’ve sold out of whatever you wanted to order.)

Fortunately Santa Fe Brewery is always there to provide liquid inspiration.

Here are the highlights, as I saw them.  I’m skipping at least half the bands, either because I didn’t hear enough of their set or because I missed it altogether.  ( So if you’re in one of the bands, and I don’t mention you, it’s not an insult, it’s just because I didn’t catch your set.  Sorry.  I’ll try to do better next time.)

Frigg.  The town of Kaustinen has turned out more terrific musicians than anyplace practically, and here are some more of them.  As I’m totally down with that Ostrobothnian groove thang, I made a point of seeing their entire set.

At first I thought, “Hey, this can’t be a Finnish band.  There’s no accordion!”  (Some might find that a mercy.)  Instead what we have is a wall of four fiddle players, backed by mandolin, drums, and upright bass.  There are in fact about twice as many members of Frigg as perform in any one place, including Swedes and at least one Englishwoman, and they switch off depending on teaching schedules or whatever.  A band that’s a sort of commune, and named after the Norse god of, um, liveliness.  That’s cool.

Some might consider this a Finno-Ugric version of Barrage, but they’re far more on the folk side of things, and they’ve got that dark Arctic Circle vibe going for them, at least when they’re not playing indecently fast.  I bought a CD.

Yuri Yunakov.  Well, who knew that Bulgarian wedding music could so absolutely rock?  Certainly not me.

Bulgarian wedding music is also political, apparently, especially if you’re a member of Bulgaria’s Romani-Turkish minority who not only plays saxophone, but is a former boxing champion.  I guess weddings are places where you’re free to say what you want, at least till you leave and the secret police knock the snot out of you.

Yunakov’s music features those incredible time-signature changes we see in the Balkans, in which the players shift effortlessly from 11/16 to 2/4 to 9/8 in just a few bars.  And he’s an amazing saxophonist.  (This may be the only time the words “amazing saxophonist” will ever issue from me, so enjoy it when you can.)

And, as an appreciative aside, I very much liked the hip-shakin’ action from singer Gamze, who Yuri kindly brought along.

I bought a CD.  It didn’t have Gamze’s hips, unfortunately.

Gaida is alleged to be known to her fans as the “Syrian nightingale,” which didn’t exactly tell me what to expect.  What I discovered was a woman in a tasteful black cocktail dress singing along with a kind of Middle-Eastern jazz ensemble.   The variety and depth of the performances were breathtaking, from ballads and rocking tunes and lounge songs, and Western jazz turns out to cohere very well with traditional Middle Eastern modes of improvisation.

I would have bought the CD, but after the performance they were all sold in one great rush.

Buffy Ste.- Marie turned 70 this year, but you wouldn’t know it from her performance, which put everyone else at the festival to shame.  She and her band rocked so hard that I could close my eyes and think I was at a Metallica concert.  My memories of the folkie from the Sixties playing protest songs on her acoustic guitar were completely blown away.   My guess is that both she and Tina Turner have rapidly-aging portraits hidden in their closets.

And it’s not like the protest songs have vanished.  Her songs may, just may, have touched on discrimination and violence and Wounded Knee and the methods energy companies use to steal the First Nations’ mineral wealth.  Just may.

But Walter, I can hear you say, we really need to know who had the bossest accordion!  That would be Felix y Los Gatos, which is a sort of Cajun-Norteno fusion band from Albuquerque and fronted by someone named Felix Peralta.  Because, you know, the best Cajuns seem to come from New Mexico.  Don’t know why that is.

Burkina Electric. These guys hail from Ouagadougou, which apparently produces nearly as many fine musicians as Kaustinen.  With these folks you get the whole West African package: percussion, drums, dancing, call-and-response, electric guitar, and joy, joy, joy.  Unfortunately I can’t seem to find a video that showcases the kind of performance that I saw.

Luisa Maita is from Brazil and has that Brazilian swing, and can create an air of intimacy in a very big room.  Gotta like this.

Cedric Watson & Creole Bijou.  Young black guy from Texas who wears a Mohawk and fronts a Louisiana band.  He seems to know every Louisiana song ever recorded, going back to Columbus maybe.  We danced, reader.  We danced.

I wished I could have seen more of Sergente Garcia, who is this sort of French-Basque rapper influenced in equal measure by salsa, reggae, and the Clash, and who took his stage name from the comic relief in the old Zorro TV series.  But by that point my feet hurt, and my ears, and pretty much the rest of me.

I’ll be back next year.

Gregory Frost September 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Great, grand, glorious music. What a smorgasbord! Thanks for posting all of it.


Anonymous September 21, 2011 at 6:37 pm

“The town of Kaustinen has turned out more terrific musicians than anyplace practically, and here are some more of them. As I’m totally down with that Ostrobothnian groove thang, I made a point of seeing their entire set.”

The fact that an author living in New Mexico, whose work has been part of my teens and young adulthood, writes about something coming from Ostrobothnia (where I am from) and the town of Kaustinen (which is about 40 km from where I’m born) is so enormously strange: Kaustinen and Ostrobothnia is more or less completly of the world radar.

I know that you have finnish roots, but still…

Marcus Prest

wjw September 21, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Marcus>> I think the short answer here is that I’m incredibly hip.

Half my ancestors came from Kankaanpää, which =used= to be in Ostrobothnia until they split up the province. It was sufficiently remote— at least in the 1970s, when I was last in Finland— that there was no way to get there except by hitchhiking.

The other half of my ancestors came from someplace in Karelia that is now part of Russia. I don’t know what sort of music is being generated there, but I imagine it’s depressing.

Shash September 24, 2011 at 3:27 am

Walter, you just added an event to my “must do” list. Terrific music.

Happily, I’ve heard Frigg before, but only on the radio. I get to hear them live next weekend in Mpls.

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