Farouk KabilaThe rising French star Zaz will perform at globalFEST.
Rocketing from the streets of Montmartre to the top of European charts and 8 million views on YouTube has not given the singer Zaz the momentum to leap across the Atlantic. That’s why the organizers of the annual New York City globalFEST show thought she was a perfect candidate to add to their lineup.
“Zaz is a great example of someone who is a high-quality artist who has double-platinum status in France who is a huge stadium artist overseas, but has not really made a dent yet in the United States,” said Shanta Thake, the director of Joe’s Pub in Manhattan and one of globalFEST’s three co-producers. “She is perfectly poised to break through.”
Thake said the mission of globalFEST is “expanding the market for world music in North America.” The showcase is in its ninth year and features 12 world-music artists playing on three stages in one night. It coincides with the American Presenters of the Performing Arts conference, where bookers come to look for new acts, from classical quartets to dance troupes. As many as 400 bookers will be in the audience, Thake said.
This year, globalFEST has taken that mission to the next level, using a grant from the Ford Foundation to create a fund to subsidize tours of North America by artists from overseas. “Most artists are losing money when they come to the United States,” Thake said. “Especially if it’s their first tour.”
The touring grants, she said, were requiring performers to expand to markets outside the easier ones, such as New York or California. “This is really to try to infiltrate the middle of the country,” Thake said.
Looking back on nine years of globalFEST, Thake said it has been partly responsible for a growing presence of world music artists at indie festivals, such as Bonnaroo, and at American concert halls. In fact, globalFEST is, for the first time, doing a second showcase this year — at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in March.
Thake said Zaz has a “beautiful, crystal-clear voice” and is adept at French “Gypsy jazz” as well as pop. “She straddles both worlds really well,” Thake said. “She is the real deal.”
Zaz, born Isabelle Gouchert in Tours, had long wanted to become a singer, receiving classical training as a young girl. Her first professional ventures saw her playing with bands in a variety of styles, including jazz, blues and even Latin music. To make ends meet, she did some street busking in Montmartre, which she said “was a great experience that allows me, probably, to have a spontaneous and direct contact with the public.”
Answering a newspaper ad one day, she submitted a few demo tracks for a recording contract; this led to her 2010 debut album.
The album’s jaunty swing and her charismatic voice made it a quick, huge hit across Europe. The video for her single “Je Veux,” which has her and two musicians simply playing on a sidewalk, quickly attracted some 8 million viewers on YouTube, helping to make Zaz a star.
“The most difficult part of my job,” she said, “has actually been to realize all of a sudden that people recognize me and take pictures of me in the street or at the baker’s; it’s disturbing.”
The Irish supergroup The Gloaming will make their U.S. debut at globalFEST.
Her sudden rush of success has her head spinning, but she said it has been a great ride.
“I think it is the most exciting thing that’s happened to me, to travel and sing.”
The following artists are on the bill at Sunday’s globalFEST concert:
• Although he is unknown in America, Diogo Nogueira is samba royalty, the son of songwriter João Nogueira as well as a television star who has added a charismatic presence to Brazil’s heartbeat rhythm. He started his career as a soccer player, but an injury sent him back to the music he grew up with and he quickly became a phenom, applying his warm voice to the romantic samba-canção style. He is also host of the weekly Brazilian TV show “Samba na Gamboa,” which often features veteran samba performers.
• Italian food, fashion and cinema have long been popular in the United States, but Italy’s strong folk music tradition has gone unnoticed here. Mauro Durante of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino said he doesn’t like playing traditional music “like a postcard from the past,” so he and the group update the whirling southern Italian pizzica dance music with a modern sensibility. Durante said that since the band’s start in 1975, it has overcome skepticism in Italy of music that had been associated with “poverty and backwardness.”
• The late Cesária Évora opened the eyes of the world to the sweet, swinging music of the tiny Cape Verde islands. While singer Mayre Andrade is of Cape Verdean heritage, she has had a peripatetic life, living in Cuba as well as France, where she is now based. She brings that multinational influence to her accessible, easygoing music. Andrade will be at globalFEST with an acoustic trio, singing songs that would seem at home in Rio, Havana or Paris.
• Making its U.S. debut, The Gloaming is a new band composed of veterans of Celtic music. Fiddler Martin Hayes and guitarist Dennis Cahill have long been performing as a duo, intertwining their technical virtuosity with almost-telepathic improvisations. Now they have teamed with Iarla Ó Lionaird (a traditional Gaelic-style singer who fronted Afro Celt Sound System) and classically trained pianist Thomas Bartlett (who has performed as Doveman with David Byrne, Bebel Gilberto, the National and Yoko Ono).
Who: Zaz, Silk Road Ensemble, Yemen Blues, Diogo Nogueira, The Gloaming, Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, Mayra Andrade, SMOD, BelO, Wang Li, M.A.K.U. Sound System, Debo Band
When: Sunday from 7 p.m. to midnight
Where: Webster Hall, 125 E. 11th St., New York
How much: $40; call (800) 745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com.