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How a global music festival helps international musicians reach larger audiences
Amna Nawaz: The sounds of the world brought to New York for one night, and, from there, perhaps, to a club or concert hall or festival near you.
Jeffrey Brown reports on the phenomenon called globalFEST, for our arts and culture series, Canvas.
Jeffrey Brown: You have likely heard the marimba before, but not played quite like this.
This is the Mexican band Son Rompe Pera, who've created a distinctive blend of, as the T-shirt says, cumbia, the traditional Latin American music, and punk. And here they were recently in what is for them a very unusual setting, New York's Lincoln Center.
Jesus Gama is one of three brothers in the band.
Jesus Gama, Musician (through translator): To come here and play and be seen by different people from all over the world, that's something unique. For a street band to arrive in these places is something very, very good, especially in Mexico, where it is difficult to get support.
Jeffrey Brown: International musicians being seen and supported to tour in the U.S., it's what the annual globalFEST gathering is about.
The audience is a mix of the general public and, crucially, more than 1,000 representatives from performing arts centers around the country, eager to learn about new acts, and, if the stars align, bring them to their audiences back home.
Isabel Soffer, Co-Founder and Co-Director, globalFEST: It's a unique place, because you have an audience that's mixed with arts professionals and the general public, and you don't know who's who.
So you don't know who you're sitting next to, but they might be booking a major festival or concert hall anywhere across the country or around the world.
Jeffrey Brown: Isabel Soffer co-founded globalFEST 20 years ago with Bill Bragin and Shanta Thake, who's also chief artistic officer here at Lincoln Center, which has now given globalFEST a new home for the festival.
It began, says Soffer, after 9/11, amid fears of isolationism, a way to ensure more Americans are exposed to global culture.
Isabel Soffer: We know that music plays a key role in people's understanding of the world, and we take that really seriously. And we do want to challenge both the audiences and presenters, and to just think more critically about where these people are from.
Jeffrey Brown: This year, chosen from among hundreds of submissions, they came from countries including Morocco, the ecstatic singing and playing of the all-women group Bnat El Houariyat, joined by Algerian-American dancer Esraa Warda, and Spain, singer Maria Jose Llergo.
And they represented varying styles of music, like that of the New York Arabic Orchestra. The event spreads across three stages, with overlapping performances, allowing the audience to move around, hear all 10 acts, and, for professional arts presenters, to do some serious business.
Jamilla Deria is director of the Fine Arts Center at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Jamilla Deria, Executive Director, UMass Fine Arts Center: It's critical as a presenter who isn't in a major market. I think that to be able to fly to Marrakesh, and then France and Mexico City is a bit outside my budget range.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes, much as you might want to.
Jamilla Deria: Yes, as much as I -- but the ability to just fill up the gas tank and drive down to New York for a few days to be able to see these artists in person, not only experience their music, but the impact of their music on a Western audience, is invaluable.
Jeffrey Brown: GlobalFEST is actually a satellite festival held at the same time as a much larger annual convention, the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, or APAP.
Here, Deria and thousands of others survey the current music, theater, and dance worlds and meet performers, agents, and managers to set up performances and tours. It's part of the country's performing arts ecosystem. They also meet other presenters who can band together, in the case of bringing global acts to this country, to defray the often large costs of travel, visas, and other touring expenses.
Jamilla Deria: So you can talk to the presenter in East Tennessee or the presenter in Maine, and they could be, like, standing alongside you and say, hey, do you love this guy? I love this guy. Let's do this. Let's bring them to our region.
Jeffrey Brown: And that makes it work economically?
Jamilla Deria: The cost of bringing a group from across the world is not for the faint of heart.
Jeffrey Brown: There's always at least one act at globalFEST that doesn't have to travel so far, an American musician or group the festival curators believe is ready for a bigger audience.
This year, it was The Legendary Ingramettes, wonderfully named, powerfully voiced. Started in by Maggie Ingram, now led by her daughter Almeta Ingram-Miller and based in Richmond, Virginia, this is a group that's been singing in one form or another for some six decades, suddenly getting a new kind of attention.
Rev. Almeta Ingram-Miller, The Legendary Ingramettes: We didn't really realize how many people have been watching what we do. We're still homegrown folks. We're still Richmond's first family of gospel.
Jeffrey Brown: True to their gospel roots, Miller says, The Ingramettes are about service, typically singing in churches, community centers, or schools. This, she knew, was going to be different.
There's going to be hundreds or a few thousand presenters from around the country.
Rev. Almeta Ingram-Miller: Oh, my goodness. Listen, I...
Jeffrey Brown: And you know that, right?
Rev. Almeta Ingram-Miller: I do. I do know.
Jeffrey Brown: Does that make you a little nervous?
Rev. Almeta Ingram-Miller: You know what? We're just going to have a good time and to share who we are and to share the music that we bring.
Jeffrey Brown: Yes.
On stage a short time later, The Legendary Ingramettes were sharing away to a happy crowd. And, possibly, if globalFEST magic holds, they will be sharing on a stage near you one day soon.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown at Lincoln Center in New York.
Geoff Bennett: And there is much more online, including our interviews with several of the musicians up for Grammy Awards this Sunday.