Posts Tagged ‘GlobalFEST’


Emel Unplugged from Michal Shapiro on Vimeo.

Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouthi’s set took an unexpected turn at GlobalFEST. Webster Hall’s Studio room was packed. Described in the program as “Electro-inspired voice of Tunisia’s Arab Spring” she was accompanied by synths and drums and as such she was delivering a solid show, and keeping the audience of presenters and other music biz types swaying and clapping. I was having a tough time shooting in the crowded room, and after the 5th person bumped into me and ruined the shot, I got ticked off enough to rudely elbow my way into the front of the room. And that’s when it happened. The PA imploded. And that’s how I caught Emel’s most engaging song of the set; one in which her warmth and humor really shone. My thanks to Michael Jones for taking my camcorder sound and making it listenable.

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It’s carnival season; that time of the year when things get topsy-turvy, and the poor man has his day. All over the world people are celebrating with  music, costumes, floats, dancing and generally rowdy behavior.

But hey, there’s always a good reason to party, and when I caught the Haitian band RAM at GlobalFEST one scant year after the earthquake that all but leveled Port Au Prince, they turned in an ebullient set and had the crowd bouncing up and down. The band is named for its founder Richard A. Morse, who came to the island from the USA and became entranced by its culture. Taking over management of the crumbling Hotel Oloffson, he put together a house band in 1990, which morphed into RAM, and which became famous for its regular Thursday night performances. Over the ensuing years the band, Morse and his wife, lead singer Lunise have had their share of close calls, negotiating the minefield that is Haitian political history. Through it all the band has played in defense of human rights, and only stopped to take a break during election season. (The quake only slightly damaged the hotel and it was Morse’s Tweats that got the message out to the world about much that was happening in Port Au Prince afterwards.)

As to the video, I was taken by the performance mid-set of a very strong, anthemic song that seemed to speak of perseverance and unity. It just seemed fitting to start with something like that, before turning to a full-tilt carnival style rouser, one that lifted Lunise even further off her feet, and sent one of her earrings flying.

Note: It may be hard for some of us jaded music lovers to listen to the synth patches, which tend to sound very treacly to our ears.  But this is all part and parcel of Haitian popular music, so I say, let the spirit move you. And when those funky honking horns come in, you’ll be transported to carnival without leaving home.

For the full history of RAM, go to:

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There is nothing that brings me out of a funk like dancing.  Dancing has been the way that people have celebrated the world over, since we had feet. Science has even confirmed that it really IS good for you, as it releases all those lovely endorphins. And it’s free. You don’t have to be rich to dance.  My personal dance epiphany occurred when I was invited to my first Haitian party (which by definition is a dance party). I had my trepidations — what if I danced “wrong?”  I need not have worried. Just the fact that I was moving seemed to be enough to elicit smiles of approval. And the compas beat was SO EASY to dance to: no counting, no worrying over “steps.” You could fit just about any move into it, from the complex to the simple….you could even just pogo to it. I danced all night.  I mention all of this because Diblo Dibala was in town for GlobalFEST playing the Congo’s most uplifting export, soukous, which to my ear shares a pulse with Haitian compas, and even the dance form that co-inhabits the island, the Dominican merengue. The producers of GlobalFEST wisely put Diblo at the end of the evening, along with the other get-em-up-and-dancing bands in the other two rooms. And dance we did;  after a few songs, I put my camera down and joined in.

Yes, there are sound problems (in an otherwise excellent evening’s sound) but I really wanted to share that which cannot be conveyed exclusively by ear.  One must see, too, in order to appreciate the participatory nature of this genre, and understand why the crowd roars approval as the dancers enter 3 minutes in. Check out those sensuous rolling moves that shout to the world “These women don’t need Pilades!” But don’t  be intimidated by these fabulous dancers.  This is party music. Just get up and move. You’ll feel great.

At home, Dibala’s been dubbed “the machine gun” for his rapid fire, clean as a whistle guitar licks, but you won’t hear any western style shredding coming from him. Rather, his guitar lines, like his vocals, float on top of the groove or weave in and out, giving the sound a sugar-sweet lilt. This is guitar work in the service of the beat, not the ego.

Connection of Note: I first noticed Dibala’s name as the co-author of Dominican megastar Juan Luis Guerra’s 1992 hit “El Costo de La Vida.”

One listen to the original track “Kimia Eve” shows just how close Guerra stayed to Diblo’s version.

For more Congolese dance music, check out one of my earlier posts of Papa Wemba at WOMEX.

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Here’s where you’ll find my weekly original world music video blogs that appear on Huffington Post, as well as an archive starting in April of 2009.

This is also the place where you will find video that is exclusive to my site. I’ve traveled to places like Uzbekistan, Morocco, and Taiwan and no matter where I go I have found amazingly talented and creative people working in every genre from the deepest traditions to the cutting edge.

It’s been incredibly rewarding to interview them and to capture some of what they do on video. Enjoy what you see and hear, and let me know what you think. I welcome your feedback.