For the sixth year, this leading showcase for international sounds keeps a foot in the door of cultural exchange, giving dozens of musicians access to the national stage. The event takes place on January 11, 2009 on three stages at the newly remodeled Webster Hall in New York City. With just one ticket, festival-goers can see thirteen acts in one night, representing diverse global styles, from groundbreaking hybrids to little-known traditions, and in three unique settings under the same roof.
globalFEST is timed to coincide with the annual Association for Performing Arts Presenters conference, when thousands of concert presenters are in town to program their upcoming seasons. While globalFEST was created in the wake of 9/11, a time of xenophobic backlash and tightening visa restrictions, the festival has always kept a finger on the pulse of cross-border musical exchange and has adapted to the changing needs of the field. The festival directors—Bill Bragin of Acidophilus: Live & Active Cultures and Isabel Soffer of World Music Institute, are joined by Shanta Thake of Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater.
U.S. policies continue to create challenges for touring musicians from abroad, but shrinking arts budgets and rising travel costs are also weighing heavily on many presenters’ minds. Co-producer Isabel Soffer explains: "The groups we have chosen this year reflect the climate we believe arts presenters, artists, agents, and audiences will be experiencing in the near future.  We have taken into consideration groups that we feel will succeed artistically and economically in a variety  of venue types, keeping in mind ticket sales, originality, and ease of touring. We have included five North American-based groups, smaller ensembles  and some major draws, as well as groups completely new to the market that we think will create a big impact."
What the festival is really known for is the new opportunities it creates for touring musicians. “World music” continues to transform from folkloric niche to pop phenomenon. “International sounds are permeating unexpected places,” says globalFEST co-director Bill Bragin, whose day job is Director of Public Programming at Lincoln Center. “When you look at some of the large, general market rock festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Coachella, world music is starting to make its way into the lineups. It’s popping up more and more in commercials and soundtracks, and in major concert halls.” The once unthinkable—that an mbalax band (and globalFEST alum, Fallou Dieng) would open at the Hollywood Bowl for Gnarls Barkley or that an Inuit singer (and upcoming globalFEST artist Tanya Taqaq) would collaborate with Bjork—has become the highly anticipated, thanks to the iPod, the Internet, and ever-expanding opportunities for audiences to hear global music live.
globalFEST has played a significant role in stoking this world music revolution, presenting over 60 artists in its first 5 editions. Veterans of the festival have included Mariza, who made her way onto the stages of Carnegie Hall and the Late Show with David Letterman Balkan Beat Box and Dengue Fever, which broke out of the underground to major festivals and Nation Beat, which recently collaborated with Willie Nelson at his Farm Aid festival. Lo Còr de la Plana and Little Cow—both from globalFEST 2008— were able to use their appearance to secure US agents and subsequently conduct major national tours this year.
Major tours and visibility for a new kind of world music have sparked an array of musical hybrids and a plethora of collaborations where musicians spanning the globe share the stage. This border-crossing creativity does more than entertain it educates and closes the gap between countries and cultures. “In times of economic turmoil, like we find ourselves in today, often the impulse is to cut back on exposure and funding for artists from abroad. However, we see all<