“It feels great to participate in this,” said Dengue Fever drummer Paul Smith about participating in the 2007 edition of GlobalFest, which took place on January 21 inside New York’s cavernous Webster Hall. “We started out kind of playing to an indie rock crowd, and events like this are great for us because it gives us exposure, it is a lot of fun to play and you also get to see a lot of cool bands, and it eventually leads to other things.”
With bands playing simultaneously on the venue’s three floors, going up and down the stairs was a bona fide workout, but for those up to the task, the rewards were more than satisfactory.
Cape Verdean singer Sara Tavares kicked things off downstairs with slower tunes, but the music picked up speed as she went along. Longtime fans noticed that her guitar skills have improved, as she comfortably played lead on many of the songs. One of the evening's highlights was “Planeta Sucri,” which featured a close duet with Boy Gê Mendes (who also performed on her Balancê disc). The album’s title track was also well received.
Two floors up, Dengue Fever played music with a familiar yet original feel. The audience moved to the rhythm as Cambodian-born vocalist Chhom Nimols shimmied and belted out the songs, her hands moving in delicate arcs as she sang. Guitarist/vocalist Zac Holtzman also sings in Cambodian, and he sounds as if it were second nature to him (“I do it phonetically,” he confessed later). While some in the audience didn’t quite get it, the majority enjoyed themselves. The musicians were extremely competent, cranking out tight, rocking versions of tracks from their 2005 CD Escape From Dragon House.
Senegalese singer Julia Sarr and French guitarist Patrice LaRose gave a memorable performance. After the first couple of songs, Sarr asked if they wanted her to sing in Spanish or in French; LaRose then quipped, “we can also sing in Portuguese,” adding “tem muitos brasileiros aqui” (there are many Brazilians here). The music was amazing–for a moment, they seemed to play their own version of Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” but then the music went into a different groove. Their sound mixes different influences that seem to go in every possible direction, with amazing results.
We trekked upstairs again to see Mexican-American singer Lila Downs as she performed a high-energy set showcasing material from her latest album, La Cantina. She danced wildly, sang, and played guitar and percussion, displaying an incredible rapport with the audience and alternating between English, Spanish and her mother’s native Mixtec dialect. All the songs were well received; among the highlights were album opener “La Cumbia Del Mole” and “La Tequilera,” an upbeat number about the pleasures of the national drink.
Paris-based Le Trio Joubran, formed by brothers Samir, Wissam and Adnan Joubran (who were born in Nazareth) presented a show that was unique among the acts that performed that evening–their set consisted of jazz-inflected music performed on ouds. They are all highly skilled musicians, but one couldn’t help but think that their work would have been better appreciated in a jazz club, with less conversation going around.
Brazil’s Lenine was very brave to go on solo, unsupported by rhythm. He started out with “O Dia Que Faremos Contato” (The Day We Make Contact), and compensated for the lack of a band by moving around a lot, and getting the crowd to move along with him. On “O Verbo E A Verba” (The Verb and the Money), he got people to sing the “Dolores/Dolares” refrain with him, and he got a welcome ovation as he closed with “Jack Soul Brasileiro,” a song that was a hit in Brazil for electronica singer Fernanda Abreu.
A welcome opportunity for audiences and musicians alike (there were several festival bookers in attendance), events like GlobalFest are great for opening our ears to music that many would otherwise hav