Music Of The Sphere
Global rhythms converge for Monterey World Music Festival.
Thursday, September 25, 2003
The world is once again beating a path to Monterey''s door. The 7th Annual Monterey World Music Festival opens on Thursday, and despite the challenge of staging a major arts event in a period of drastically diminished statewide arts funding, it remains one of the region''s signal cultural events.
Indeed, this year''s festival offers a formidable array of sounds spanning continents and eras, from the rolling green hills of Ireland and the shifting sands of the Sahara Desert to the ghetto of medieval Prague and the cadences of classical Persia.
With the virtual dismantling of the California Arts Council, the festival, which is sponsored by the Cultural Council for Monterey County, has been forced to drop the free outdoor concerts. Instead, there''s a parade through downtown Monterey on Saturday morning-led by the popular Santa Cruz-based Afro-Brazilian band SambaDá. The percussion-powered procession culminates on the steps of City Hall with a ethnic mini-arts festival featuring more than a dozen community ensembles, including Capoeira Angola, Salsa Rueda Santa Cruz, Tango Monterey Bay, Haron Turkish Folk Ensemble, Barnes Academy of Irish Dancing, Danza de la Pluma, and many others.
"It''s been very hard both as a project and an agency," says David Cloutier, the festival''s founder and Cultural Council for Monterey County artistic director. "There''s been the sense of recession, particularly being in a resort area, but we''ve got to keep going. We''re determined to keep the quality of the festival really high, and maintain the format of eight to ten bands on a weekend."
The festival opens on Thursday at the Monterey Institute of International Studies with a screening of the classic 1920 German expressionist film The Golem, featuring the quartet Davka performing its acclaimed score. Led by violinist Daniel Hoffman, Davka features cellist Moses Sedler, percussionist Kevin Mummey and reed master Paul Hanson, whose amazing bassoon work has been widely featured with Bela Fleck. The band has gained a devoted following with its compelling, delicately textured blend of Eastern European melodies, Middle Eastern rhythms and jazz improvisation.
With its dizzying melange of musical styles, Hoffman''s score draws on everything from Jewish liturgical melodies and Israeli folk songs to Also Spach Zarathustra and the theme from The Munsters. As on the group''s latest CD, 1999''s Judith, on John Zorn''s Tzadik label, the music feels both startlingly contemporary and rooted in Old World tradition.
"I''m throwing in a lot of quotes from different sources, a lot of quotes of klezmer tunes, but just little snippets," Hoffman says, "so unless you''re a real klezhead, you wouldn''t recognize them. I''m definitely having a good time with this score. But most of the time, the character of it is pretty dark, because the movie is pretty dark, brooding and gloomy."
Hoffman, who also leads the San Francisco Klezmer Experience, was actually inspired by the medieval Jewish myth of the Golem long before he was commissioned to write the score for the film. On Davka''s 1996 debut CD Lavy''s Dream (Tzadik), he recorded "The Dream of Rabbi Lavy," a swirling piece named after the Jewish spiritual leader who, according to one version of the story, created the Golem. A precursor to Mary Shelley''s Frankenstein, the myth tells of a giant man of clay brought to life to protect the Jews of Prague''s ghetto from pogroms.
In 1998, Davka was invited to perform at Toronto''s Ashkenaz Festival of New Yiddish Culture and the artistic director asked him to compose a score for the silent movie The Golem. Directed by Paul Wegener and Carl Boese, the film is an expressionist masterpiece full of odd angled shots, inventive sets and unsettling imagery. While The Golem offers a vivid portrayal of Jewish life in medieval Prague, in many ways its view of the past says more about the particular time and place the film was created. Hoffman''s score addresses the various dissonances contemporary viewers might feel watching the film.
"It soon became obvious to me that this is a film about Jews made by Germans," Hoffman says. "It''s not that the directors made this anti-Semitic movie, it''s just a little bit of the anti-Semitism of that society peeks through. I think their intention was a sympathetic portrayal.
"We look at these old movies now with really different eyes than audiences in the 1920s," Hoffman continues. "What might seem like a serious scene back then makes everyone laugh now, and I''m playing with that dynamic.
With some of the scenes that are supposed to be dramatic I''ll go along with it and take it over the top. And sometimes I''ll make fun of the scene and add a little commentary on it. Other times I''m really just underscoring the action and trying to stay out of the way. Since it''s a silent film, you don''t have to get out of the way of dialogue, which gave me a lot of freedom."
Solas plays Irish folk tunes.
Into the Tradition and Beyond
Friday, 8pm; Sunset Center; San Carlos at 8th, Carmel.
This concert brings together two of the finest bands on the traditional Irish music scene. Dervish is an exceptional septet from County Sligo, a region in northwest Ireland where Gaelic is still widely spoken. The band''s most recent album, Spirit (Compass), showcases Cathy Jordan''s soaring vocals and the band''s consummate musicianship.
Solas is also steeped in Irish folk music, but on its last album The Edge of Silence (Shanachie), it added contemporary songs by artists like Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Nick Drake, all interpreted with a Celtic lilt.
World Melting Pot: Mamadou Diabate Ensemble performs music of Mali (left); and Stellamara entertains with an Eastern European mix (right).
Saturday, 8pm Monterey Conference Center, 1 Portola Plaza, Monterey.
Hailing from one of Mali''s most distinguished musical families, Mamadou Diabate is a master of the kora, a 21-string lute-like instrument that uses a large gourd as a resonator. His innovative band, which features Balla Kouyate on balafon, Moussa Cissoko on acoustic guitar and n''goni, and Abdoulaye Diabate on vocals, expands upon the tightly patterned, incantational Manding style. Sharing the bill is the brilliant Moroccan vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Hassan Hakmoun, who has created an expansive sound including funk, jazz, pop, Arabic ululation and the call-and- response chanting and polyrhythms of the Gnawa, descendants of black Africans brought to Morocco centuries ago as artisans and slaves.
The Mystic Dance
Sunday, 6pm Sunset Center, San Carlos at 8th, Carmel.
The festival closes on Sunday with a sublime double bill of Stellamara and Axiom of Choice. With its sumptuous blend of Balkan, Turkish, early European and Hindustani influences, Stellamara creates sweeping, emotionally resonant soundscapes keying on Sonja Drakulich''s ornate vocal lines and Gari Hegedus dazzling accompaniment on oud, violin, saz and other instruments.
Axiom, a sextet that plays music inspired by classical Iranian (Persian) melodies, crafted its latest album, Unfolding (Narada World), around the 11th-century poetry of Omar Khayyam. Beautifully textured with a dash of ambient electronica, this is music that takes you to another world.
Ticket for the World Music Festival are $20/advance, $25 at the door. 1-866-56MUSIC.