World Music’s Winter Festival Is A Winner
What a concept – throw an indoor music festival for your 25th anniversary and turn the House of Blues into festival grounds! That is exactly what World Music/CRASHarts did last weekend. I hope it is the first of many festivals for this fine organization.
This fine organization promotes a wide variety of artists from around the world at different venues in the Boston area, and their shows are always interesting. Musicians, dancers, and others are included in their annual offerings.
This festival – called CRASHfest – featured ten bands and a belly dancer (or dancers – I did not see this act) on three stages across two floors. The House of Blues looked like a party, with high tables placed around the venue, food stations offering international cuisine, bars serving international drinks, a henna tattoo station, a t-shirt printing station, and probably other things I missed!
The timing of the acts was staggered so it was possible to see at least some of each set, which was exactly what I did. The side stages were unfortunately quite crowded, which I expected because they were set up in places where there is usually no music. The lighting was not good, so my photos of those acts are not up to my standards.
The first act on the Local Stage set up in the restaurant was Zili Misik, a ten-piece all-female Afro-Caribbean band, who started their set with a song in Swahili (I believe). The lead singer is fun to watch on some hand percussion instruments and I enjoyed listening to them. Dressed in white, the lead singer explained the songs before they were performed.
From there I went upstairs to the Foundation Room for what turned out to be Red Baraat; Tongues in Trees was originally scheduled to perform but were stuck in New York by the blizzard. I have seen Red Baraat and they always deliver a high-energy performance; this set was no exception. Sunny Jain played an Indian drum called the dhol, and gets the crowd moving with an amalgamation of Indian Bhangra, rock and jazz.
On to the Main Stage I went to see Monsieur Periné, a Grammy-winning group from Colombia that plays jazzy pop. They are fronted by Catalina Garcia, who is the most charismatic and adorable lead singer (with the best smile) I have seen in a long time. She clearly knows how to work an audience, and we were consumed by her. This was their first appearance in Boston and I hope they come back soon.
That circle – from Local Stage to Foundation Room to Main Stage – continued for the rest of the event so I will stop mentioning the specific stage. Next up was Debo Band who I have seen perform several times and always enjoy. They are a large band (usually twelve pieces) that plays Ethiopian pop and always gets the crowd dancing. This set was no exception. Danny Mekonnen is the lead singer who has a voice well-suited to the music.
The Steel Wheels is a band from Virginia that plays original Americana/Appalachian tunes. Unfortunately I got to that stage after they began and had to stand at the back of the crowd. I saw them perform a few months ago and loved their sound. I particularly enjoyed what I heard this night; it seemed less like bluegrass than I heard recently (I love bluegrass but this was even better).
There was a wonderful dance performance by Boston Bhangra, four women in colorful costumes who whirled and twirled on the floor of the main room!
Then we were treated to a percussion extravaganza with The Dhol Foundation, a band from the UK that was also appearing in Boston for the first time. With four dhols at the front of the stage, they had the whole room dancing and loving their well-choreographed set. I believe Jo Kalsi, the founder/artistic director/dhol player, said he was originally from Punjab and asked some of the dancers if they were as well (they were). The smiles on everyone’s faces were a joy to behold.
Session Americana is a local band that I saw for the first time a month ago, and loved so I was happy to see them on the schedule for this festival. They had a slightly different lineup for this show (Jefferson Hamer, a wonderful guitarist with a fantastic voice, was with them) but it was every bit as good as the other lineup I saw. As their name suggests, they play Americana music including original songs such as ‘Beertown’. I do not know if they sang it during this set; possibly not because audience participation is an integral part of the song and it is possible not a lot of people had seen them perform.
Leyla McCalla Trio was the next act I saw; Leyla is a cellist and banjo player who was with the Carolina Chocolate Drops for a number of years. Based in New Orleans and of Haitian heritage, Leyla performs both traditional songs and original music that draws on her heritage. She is an ethnomusicologist as are her former bandmates, and her brief explanation of the songs added to our understanding of them.
I was quite interested to see Kishi Bashi; I saw him almost four years ago as a solo act opening for the headliner. K Ishibashi (his name) fascinated me then with the way he combined electronics and his violin. He had a band with him for this show, including Mike Savino, the banjo player known as Tall Tall Trees. He creates his own loops, both of the violin, percussion, and his voice, and I love the way he does it! He had many fans in the audience; as I gazed around, I noticed most people were mouthing the lyrics.
The headliner of this festival was Angélique Kidjo, a world pop singer from Benin who is now based in New York; she is an international ambassador for education for girls and women. I saw her perform two years ago, but was sitting in the penultimate row in the venue so I was more than excited to see her up close.
Charismatic does not begin to describe Angélique. Spellbinding? Hypnotic? Riveting? Mesmerizing? All are applicable. Dressed in colorful African garb, Angélique twirls across the stage, drawing us in with her superb voice and dancing. She is backed by a fabulous band which includes a drummer, percussionist, bass player, and the terrific Dominic James on guitar.
Even though we did not understand the words, her music and her persona are so fantastic that it did not matter. She did a few songs I knew, ‘Pata Pata’ and ‘Afrika’, made famous by Miriam Makeba. Everyone in the crowd knew them.
Toward the end of the show, she came into the audience to sing and high-five people. I was the first person she approached and she held my hand in hers; I felt her heart so strongly in that gesture and it was the cherry on the top of the sundae for me.
I left before the last song, and missed her inviting people on stage to dance the last song. My loss…
I hope World Music/CRASHarts repeats this event. For a first-time festival, I thought it was well run and did not appear to have any missteps (if there were, they were well hidden). It was a great way to spend a cold winter’s afternoon and evening!
Thanks to World Music/CRASHarts for the ticket; all opinions are my own.
Posted on January 29, 2016, in concert photos, concert reviews, festival photos, music, Uncategorized and tagged Angelique Kidjo, boston, Boston Bhangra, concert photos, concert review, CRASHfest, Debo Band, Kishi Bashi, Leyla McCalla Trio, Monsieur Perine, Red Baraat, Session Americana, The Dhol Foundation, The Steel Wheels, World Music/CRASHarts, Zili Misik. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.