Thirteen years ago the non-profit organization globalFEST grounded its mission in the belief that music can be a driving force to achieving a society that values cultural diversity as a source of unity rather than division.
Responding to trends in the performance industry (after 9/11 presenters weren’t booking international artists), globalFEST’s three founders — Bill Bragin, Isabel Soffer and Shanta Thake — created an international showcase and stuck it on the end of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference, which takes place every January in New York. Since then the critically acclaimed world music event (it’s also open to the public) has been a smashing success bringing little heard artists from around the world to new audiences.
“The founders really wanted to make it a discovery event filled with artists the presenters wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to hear,” says globalFEST general manager/producer Nicole Merritt. “The lineup is always filled with global music artists who haven’t yet built a career in North America.”
globalFEST’s CREOLE CARNIVAL Featuring Brushy One String, Emeline Michel and Casuarina When: 7:30 pm March 18 Where:City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Tickets: $30-$40 Info: citywinery.com
Now globalFEST is taking the next step by bringing its mission to venues and audiences across the country with its first 35-city national On the Road tour called Creole Carnival and featuring Brushy One String (from Jamaica), Emeline Michel (from Haiti) and Casuarina (from Brazil). It adds up to a don’t-miss evening of world music. The three acts honor African musical currents that blend with a fusion of sounds from the Americas that have ignited the vibe of the pre-Lent festival known as Carnival.
The lineup is interesting because none of these accomplished artists would probably categorize themselves as “Carnival artists” but they come from cultures where Carnival is this all-encompassing entity that seeps into the music and creates underlying themes that fuse the sounds of the Americas with Afro-Caribbean influences.
Brushy One String (born Andrew Chin) has an innate ability to inspire and move audiences with his soulful, gritty vocals that ring with a Jamaican pulse. As a child he played the guitar but when all the strings broke but one, he continued on and created his own unconventional style and has since become a one-string guitar master.
“Brushy is an incredible soulful force of nature, and a really raw talent,” Merritt says, adding, “I know it’s hard to imagine how he plays with one string but I guarantee he will blow you away.”
Emeline Michel is well-known in Haiti, where she grew up singing gospel music in church and went on to become one of the premier songwriters of her generation. She is trying to bring change to her country through her music, which is often inspired by the political and social issues that consistently plague Haiti. Merritt says her songs are “traditional, uplifting and quite beautiful.”
Michel is thrilled, if not a little overwhelmed, to be on such a long, demanding tour. “What city are we in? Let me check,” she says laughing and then adding that bringing her music to a wider audience is a goal now within her reach.
“globalFEST brings a wider spectrum and possibilities for having my music exposed to places I might never be able reach,” Michel says. “Plus working with these other artists is a thrill. It’s exciting to create moments on stage and new music with my touring companions.”
Rounding out the trio is Casuarina, one of the most respected samba bands in Brazil. Originally from the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Lapa, the band is known for their original songs but also “for their reworked arrangements of classic sambas by legendary composers to which they add their own African heavy sound,” Merritt says.
Over the years, globalFEST has slowly grown into a year-round service organization offering technical assistance such as connecting artists with agents, managers and labels in North America, Merritt says. While the January showcase continues to be globalFEST’s centerpiece, the goal of programs like On the Road, which also includes performances at high profile music events like SXSW and Bonnaroo, is to extend the effect of the showcase.
“We don’t want global music to be a niche thing; we want it to be part of every conversation,” Merritt says. “It is representative of the direction in which our world is going. Everything is crossing and cultures are meshing. We feel like the performing arts community should be more open to that and this tour is one step in that direction.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.
Posted on March 15, 2016.