A United Nations of Music
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
A recent feature in the New York Times highlighted a new exciting program by ISPA member organization Bang on a Can which brings musicians from around the world together for the purposes of cultural diplomacy. The OneBeat program is a two-year initiative of the administered by Found Sound Nataion, a project of Bang on a Can. Read this full feature by Larry Rohter on the New York Times website, or as it appears below.
-In one studio a Polish saxophonist was jamming with an Indonesian
gamelan master. In another, two singer-songwriters — one from Kenya, the
other from Denmark — were finishing a song they had written together.
Next door a Lebanese oud player and a Korean playing a traditional
zitherlike instrument called a gayageum rehearsed a duet for a coming
In one room after another world music in its truest sense was being created last month at the Atlantic Center for the Arts here, just north of Cape Canaveral. As part of a new federally sponsored program called OneBeat,
32 musicians from 21 countries on 5 continents, almost equally divided
between men and women, were brought together to write, produce and
record original music and take it on the road for American audiences.
"The canvas here is huge,” said Aditi Bhagwat,
a singer, percussionist and dancer from Mumbai. "I’ve seen instruments
I’ve never seen; heard rhythms, scales and harmonies I’ve never heard;
and tried things that, if I did them in India, some might think I was
foolish. But here everyone is open to new things, to change and
experimentation, which can only encourage you to grow as an artist.”
On Thursday the OneBeat tour will arrive in Brooklyn, the last stop on a
tour that began in Orlando, Fla., and included stops in Charleston,
S.C.; Asheville, N.C.; Roanoke and Floyd, Va.; Washington; and
Philadelphia. The musicians are scheduled to visit the Brooklyn
Community Arts and Media High School, check out local recording studios
and perform at Roulette in Boerum Hill on Friday, and at the Autumn
Bowl, near the waterfront in Greenpoint, on Saturday, before returning
to their home countries.
Some of the ensembles that formed here are based on traditional musical
affinities, like an Arab-Indian group and a jazz-pop fusion trio whose
members come from Kenya, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
But others are purely random: shortly after arriving here on Sept. 10,
the 32 fellows pulled numbers from a hat, and were assigned to bands
"We’re in a Garden of Eden, with no forbidden fruits, but it’s also very
intense, because we have to mingle,” said Nina Ogot, a guitarist and
singer-songwriter from Kenya who has ended up writing and performing
with Sidse Holte of Denmark in a side project. "That forces different
cultural traditions together, so you have to find common ground and make
music, no excuses allowed.”
Many of the foreign fellows had not visited the United States before;
some are out of their own countries for the first time; and a few had
never flown on an airplane. Nourished by notions of America derived from
movies, many of them were startled to end up in a small-town setting,
hard by the Intracoastal Waterway and hot and humid, that did not at all
conform to their expectations of what the United States would be like.
"Having never been in America before, this seems like Columbus to me,”
said Piotr Kurek, a Polish producer and sound engineer who has
gravitated toward the Asian contingent. "It’s very wild here, like a
OneBeat also has five American fellows, seemingly chosen to give a sense
of the breadth of United States musical traditions and styles. Chance
McCoy is an Appalachian fiddler and dulcimer player living in Virginia,
while Amir ElSaffar is a jazz-oriented trumpet and santur player from
Chicago, and Domenica Fossati is a flutist and singer from New York who has performed in genres ranging from classical to pop.
Through the luck of the initial draw Mr. McCoy and Mr. ElSaffar found
themselves in a band with Ms. Bhagwat and Kyungso Park, the Korean
gayageum player, creating a new style they jokingly call country and
eastern music. On one song they wrote together Mr. McCoy played slide
guitar in a modal style to get closer to Ms. Bhagwat’s natural sound,
while Ms. Park made her instrument sound almost like a banjo to
approximate an Appalachian feel.
"I’m not a person who wants to play museum music, and I’m happy to see
all the other fellows think like me,” Ms. Park said. "Here I can open my
eyes to new sounds and a new world.”
The initial two weeks of writing and rehearsing new music here also
included visits and workshops led by well-known American musicians, with
other collaborations planned for the tour. Those participants include
the jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas; the guitarist Mark Stewart; the
composer and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn; and the Cuban-born drummer Dafnis Prieto.
"This is like a dream come true for any musician,” not just the 32
fellows, Mr. Prieto said after giving a master class that ended with his
jamming with an Indian sarod player, Sayak Barua, and Ms. Park.
"Instead of having to travel all over the world, getting to know all
these different traditions, you have such a wide spectrum of
possibilities in one place.”
The OneBeat program is a two-year, $1.25 million initiative of the State Department, administered by Found Sound Nation, which is a project of the New York new-music organization Bang on a Can. Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs,
described OneBeat as a particularly effective exercise in cultural
diplomacy, aimed at establishing links with what she called "young
opinion makers and future leaders” abroad.
"We want to engage them in every way we can,” she said. "We want to know them, and we want them to know us.”
She added, "They are not only coming together to write and produce new
music, but forming bonds and networks and relationships that will
continue to grow.”
One fellow, Hélio Vanimal, is a topical songwriter from Mozambique who
said he often goes to rural villages to sing and rap about AIDS
containment and agricultural development. Asked if his impressions of
the United States might find their way into his presentations, he
responded, "How can they not?”
More than 900 musicians from 40 countries, ages 19 to 35, applied for
the OneBeat fellowships, organizers of the program said. Despite their
young ages many of the musicians are deeply imbued with the traditions
of their cultures.
Sri Joko Raharjo, 29, who teaches gamelan theory at a conservatory in
Java, said, "My grandfather, his grandfather and his grandfather’s
grandfather” all were musicians.
"I don’t want to abandon my tradition, I just want to make it richer,”
he said. "Each musician here has given me something new, something I can
take and apply in my own culture.” In particular, he added, he was
drawn to jazz, "which I had only read about before, but now I can see
Weronika Partyka, a 23-year-old Polish saxophonist, with whom Mr.
Raharjo was collaborating, said that she had similarly been stimulated
by her first encounter with gamelan, noting that "Joko’s scales are
‘wrong’ in a Western sense, but they’re not.” Asked if the contact with
other musical traditions would make her a different musician, she smiled
and replied, "I have already become a different musician.”