GlobalFest Surges On

A worldly showcase flourishes, recession notwithstanding

GlobalFest showcases so much high-quality talent that artists accustomed to headlining elsewhere can find themselves opening this three-stage marathon to less-than-capacity crowds. But not in vain. Magnificent early sets by Ghanian neo-highlife combo the Occidental Brothers and New Orleans’ resplendent Hot 8 Brass Band were streamed live to Internet millions via WNYC and NPR radio, which will also offer Sunday’s performances for download beginning this Friday.

Synergy and multilateral partnerships have been empowering GlobalFest for six years now, but the lessons of its continued success are needed more than ever in today’s economic climate. The show’s amazing deal — affordable tickets to see 12 world-class acts in one night — is only achieved because the artists aren’t paid. But the consequent chance to secure a U.S. agent and/or record company is worth one unpaid gig, and keeps event sponsors like the French Music Export Office coming back for more. With Webster Hall full of international promoters, managers, and booking agents already in town for the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters confab, the buzz surging from 7 p.m. to midnight through a crowd slowly rotating amid all three stages was about how to secure visas, hotels, airfare, a decent wage, and sufficient regional gigs for hot new acts in an environment where cash and corporate sponsorships are too tight to mention.

Ironically, some of the night’s most moving and intimate moments were delivered by bands with upward of eight members. Already a star in India, powerhouse vocalist Kailash Kher himself paid 10 airfares so his Bollyrock group Kailasa could prove the crossover appeal of irresistibly hooky, funky uptempos like “Jaana Jopi De Nall” (“One With the Divine”). Brooklyn Qawwali Party (subbing last-minute for an ailing Femi Kuti) was a similarly large American orchestra using conservatory jazz chops to interpret Sufi instrumentals. Calypso Rose regally dominated her laid-back soca outfit, sailing salty quips over the heads of her audience and getting cool points for dedicating a song to departed trailblazer Miriam Makeba. And more exotic fare, like experimental Canadian Inuit singer Tanya Tagaq and the Iranian duo Shanbehzadeh Ensemble, pushed the line between music and performance art with ambitions beyond feel-good accessibility.

Elsewhere, M├írcio Local’s sexy samba-funk faltered only when it embraced reggae. Watching Brooklyn institution Chicha Libre’s transplanted Peruvian surf-pop was a bit like being in a Tarantino movie. French chanson-popsters L&O deliciously evoked a Gainsbourg and Birkin project gone klezmer. And just like last year, a strong contender emerged from Southern France: namely, the four-piece electronica crew Watcha Clan. These polylingual, polyethnic charmers, fully capable of beguiling old folkies and club kids alike, capped the night as exuberant exemplars of what American promoters are hoping for: economical, progressive, youth-oriented entertainment to help widen America’s pop-cultural spectrum.

Published in: Village Voice, January 13, 2009