Three Stages. No Waiting.

by wjw on September 25, 2012

This past weekend was the annual Globalquerque music festival, with sixteen bands playing on three stages over two nights.  As usual, I missed a lot of music by virtue of the fact that I was at one stage and not another.  Which is disappointing, but since I was generally hearing good sounds wherever I was, it wasn’t as disappointing as it could have been.

My absolute favorite band was one that was putting on its first concert ever— in fact, two of the band members hadn’t met the other two until last week.

The most familiar name in the band would be R. Carlos Nakai.  If you have a CD somewhere of Native American flute music, odds are ten to one that it’s R. Carlos.  He sort of has the market sewn up.   Joining him on stage were Mongolian throat-singer Shinetsog Dorjnyam, the equally Mongolian zither virtuoso Munkh-Erdene, and the U.K.’s very own Stephen Kent on didgeridoo and an assortment of exotic percussion instruments.  Shinetsog is also a master of the morin huur, which is a Mongolian instrument played like a cello, but which sounds pretty much like a violin.

Gotta say that a good deal of the time I just gaped.   Any one of these instruments can sound unearthly, and all four playing at once is like a window into an alternate musical universe.

I gotta hope that this band records.

I’d like to be able to upload a video, but unfortunately they don’t exist, the band being brand-new an’ all.  But you can find videos of all of them playing solo, and here are performances by from Kent and Munkh-Erdene.  (Kent also amuses by shooting lightning from his nose.)

The Biggest Fun Award goes to New Mexico’s own The Big Spank, a sort of Latino punk ska death metal polka outfit who travel around in an old bus, just like Kesey an’ them.  The band is clearly too energetic and crazy to fit the little stage the festival stuck them on— and one thing I noticed was that despite the anarchic energy, those songs were really well-structured.  (Dudes can write a bridge, yo.)  After forty minutes of Big Spank’s cheerful high-energy lunacy, I had enough adrenaline to carry me through the rest of the festival.   What I’ve found here is a cheerfully anarchic homemade video featuring some drunk guy in a red dress, and the band playing an Oktoberfest somewhere, which I have to say seems their natural milieu.  Mind the suspicious gap at the end.

More fun was offered by Haitian twoubadous Ti-Coca and Wanga-Nègès, who have been starring together for over thirty years.  (One name means “Little Coca-Cola,” and the other is an erotic hummingbird.  Or so it sez right here in the program.)  A highly varied set played by a band in cheerful bright satin uniforms, their music showed how much the Caribbean traditions influence one another— we got Haitian versions of the merengue and sounds that could have been Cuban if it weren’t for an unexpected Creole language popping up.

Daniel Kahn and the Painted Bird was another band to bring an audience to its feet— well actually, given the content of the songs, to get them to march.  This klezmer band continues a decades-long radical political tradition of music by really pissed-off Jews, which you can probably tell just from the band naming itself after the Jerzy Kosinski novel.   Behold the classic Great Depression anthem “March of the Jobless Corps,” translated from the original Yiddish and brought to a new relevance by recent events.

My introduction to the Tuareg came in old Tarzan comics, where the Tuareg, armed with “firesticks,” were always raiding south of the Sahara for slaves.  Well do I remember their sinister eyes glaring from beneath their blue turbans and above their veils!  (The Tuareg men wear veils, while Tuareg women do not.)

Tuareg did indeed raid for slaves, but nowadays they’re a culture under pressure from nationalists, Muslim fanatics, and corporations eager to plunder the mineral wealth of their vast Saharan homeland.  Their musical superstar is guitarist Bombino, who elegantly rocks their musical traditions, right here in the Tuareg empire.

Slinking onto the stage came Motor City soul princess Bettye LaVette, still on a roll after her big hit album, I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise.  She cut her first hit when she was sixteen, and has performed with James Brown, Otis Redding, the alt-country band Drive-By Truckers, and about a bazillion others.  She was also in a big Broadway hit with Honi Coles and Cab Calloway.

Her eclectic approach to her art may be viewed in this unique reinterpretation of a classic:

In Madagascar, Razia witnessed the environmental destruction wrought by slash-and-burn agriculture and the destruction of the island’s hardwoods.  So she brought an agenda to the festival.  And she can sing, too.

Closing the first night was an act that completely rocked the house, East L.A.’s own Ozomatli.  Check out this video and try not to have fun.  I dare you!

What annoyed me about this band’s terrific performance was that they inspired everyone at buy out their entire stock of CDs about six minutes into their set, leaving none for me.

There were any number of performers who I didn’t catch, or who I caught for only a few minutes. But fortunately there’s this thing called recorded music, which I can enjoy until Globalquerque rolls around next year.

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