Authentic roots music
By Andrew Gilbert
Special to the Mercury News
The name of the Global African Music Festival is the first indication that Karlton Hester is thinking big.
Hired last year as director of the
jazz program at the University of California-Santa Cruz, the respected saxophonist
and composer has put together a festival that seeks to highlight connections
among various forms of traditional African music and music that has evolved
in the African diaspora.
Opening tonight, the three-day event at the university's Music Center Recital Hall pairs solo performances by dynamic African musicians from across the sub-Saharan portion of the continent with progressive jazz bands led by trailblazing musicians, including trumpeter Eddie Gale, multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers and Hester himself.
The African connection
``A lot of times when people talk about jazz, they don't go all the way back and make the African connection,'' Hester says. ``In books and classes, they often start with the late 19th century and talk about blues and ragtime, but they rarely go to the source of the music, which is Africa. The music evolved from African music, and a lot of characteristics have been retained as the music moved to the Americas and other places.''
Tonight's program opens with a solo recital by South African pianist Hotep Idris Galeta, best-known in the United States for his work with alto saxophonist Jackie McLean. Galeta will be followed by Gale's quartet.
Zimbabwean musician Thomas Mapfumo opens Saturday's concert with a solo set. The program continues with Rivers' trio, featuring Doug Mathews and Anthony Cole, one of the most extraordinary groups in jazz.
At a concert last year in San Francisco, Rivers opened with a swaggering bluesy tune on soprano sax, accompanied by Mathews on bass and Cole on drums. As the piece reached its first climax, Rivers slid over to the piano for a rhapsodic interlude, while Cole joined in on tenor sax. A few minutes later, the band turned into a wind trio, with Rivers and Cole on tenor and Mathews on bass clarinet. And so it went throughout the set, with each tune revealing new textures and instrumental relationships.
``We've been together for over 10
years, so we've become a solid unit together,'' says Rivers, 78. ``We perform
on various instruments, so we have these combinations of colors that we can
create. I like the idea of using more colors. I think it makes you better on
one instrument to be performing on another. It opens up my mind.''
The festival concludes Sunday with a solo performance by the great Malian kora player Mamadou Diabate, followed by Hester's band, the 10-piece Hesterian Musicism, with special guests percussionist Obo Addy and trombonist Nelson Harrison, a veteran of the Count Basie Orchestra. Each concert is preceded by a lecture/demonstration by the African artists on the music of their country.
``For each evening, I wanted to have a solo performer with whom I had worked before, someone I knew could bring down the house in that context,'' Hester says, ``and then an ensemble performance. So there's that contrasting dynamic each evening.''
Hester has had a lot of time to develop his expansive concept for programming African-based music. Before coming to Santa Cruz in the fall of 2001, he spent nine years teaching at Cornell University, where he produced an annual jazz festival. By the time he returned to California (he was a vital figure on the Bay Area avant-garde jazz scene from 1976 to '82), Hester had decided that a festival should seek to make connections among various musical styles, rather than be defined by one.
``I thought that, rather than starting with a jazz festival, it would be good to start with a festival that has a mixture of global African music,'' Hester says, ``so that people can hear them next to each other and understand how they're related and how they evolved one from another.''
Planning is already under way for next year's festival, which will be held in conjunction with a UC-Santa Cruz global African music symposium. Hester is determined to make it an interdisciplinary event, incorporating visual artists and dance, for starters. With the region's cultivated audience for African, Caribbean and Latin music, and moral support from movers and shakers such as Tim Jackson, director of Kuumbwa Jazz Center and the Monterey Jazz Festival, Hester is optimistic that the festival will truly reflect an internationalist vision.
``The continent sets the basic parameters, with traditional African music and then African-American jazz,'' Hester says. ``Later, we'll be getting to music from North Africa, the Caribbean, music from Brazil, Peru and all over the diaspora. And we're connecting with other festivals, so that it won't necessarily always be global African. There's a Pacific Rim Festival, for example, so we can present the cross-fertilization of music that's happening naturally.''
Ultimately, Hester envisions the festival as part of a truly global network, linking Santa Cruz to established international music events in Houston; Savannah, Ga.; and Paris. By next year, he hopes to be working in concert with Egyptian presenters.
``I'm moving slowly on this because it's a huge project, but I intend to have 12 festivals of this type around the world,'' Hester says. ``I'm working with Cairo Conservatory and Cairo Opera House to try to pull together a festival in 2003. We already have a connection with the Cape Town African Harvest Festival in South Africa, which is sponsored by the North Sea Jazz Festival. We'll just keep broadening the concept.''
Today Santa Cruz, tomorrow the world?
Whether Hester's heady project goes global or not, he has created an intriguing event featuring electrifying musicians juxtaposed in ways that may also be terrifically illuminating.
Santa Cruz Festival of Global African Music
Where: Music Center Recital Hall,
What/when: Hotep Idris Galeta, 8 tonight. The Eddie Gale Quartet, 9:30 tonight. Samite Mulondo, 8 p.m. Saturday. The Sam Rivers Trio, 9:30 p.m. Saturday. Mamadou Diabate, 8 p.m. Sunday. Nelson Harrison, 9:30 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $11-$18 tonight, $13-$23 Saturday-Sunday
Call: (831) 459-2159
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