Human Beatbox, Flamenco Palmas, Peruvian Footwork, & Cuban Vocal Sampling: Masters of Body Music Storm the San Francisco Bay Area
2nd International Body Music Festival Returns December 1-6, 2009
If you have ever gone on an obsessive search of a sound or song whose name and origin you didn’t know, you might relate to Keith Terry, the director of the International Body Music Festival, which returns for its second year to the San Francisco Bay Area, December 1-6, 2009. In fact, his obsession runs so deep that last year he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, the first to go to a body musician, someone who makes music purely with their body. This year the Festival director has tracked down human beatboxers, a flamenco duo, a highly rhythmic Cuban a capella group, Peruvian zapateo, and a sound Terry has heard for years and will spotlight.
“There’s a distinctive clapping style from North Africa to the Persian Gulf,” Terry says. “You get a high popping sound when you spread your fingers and keep your hands parallel. And they clap intricate interlocking rhythms.” The Festival brings together a group of performers of this style, using contacts within the Arab music community to scour for performers of this form. The ensemble will perform back to back with Silvia Moreno Gil and Fátima Moreno González, two well-known Spanish flamenco dancers who dance, sing, and perform the distinctive flamenco clapping style known as palmas. By putting the two groups side-by-side, the Festival invites listeners to ponder the Moorish connection between Arabic clapping and flamenco’s palmas.
Interestingly, the juxtapositions at the Festival are balanced by the sonic cross-cuts of this little-known music form called Body Music. This was demonstrated in the debut Festival last year. “We were all playing our bodies,” Terry says, “but culture would really shine through with every artist. That really hit me - we were all playing the same instrument, but the result that came out was so distinctively French, or Turkish, or Brazilian.”
At another point along the body music spectrum is one of hip hop’s most creative human beatbox vocal percussionists. Kenny Muhammad, a.k.a. The Human Orchestra, is known for emphasizing complex polyrhythms, non-percussive sounds, and a breathing “wind technique.”
The beatboxer will share a bill with Cuba’s Vocal Sampling. The six-man ensemble from Havana will be among the first wave of Cuban artists to tour the U.S. since a performance embargo took effect in the wake of the Buena Vista Social Club. First-time listeners of Vocal Sampling often cannot tell that the many parts of the Latin Orchestra—from multiple percussion lines, an entire horn section, piano, strings, bass, and more—are entirely reproduced with the human voice. Their performance will emphasize classic boleros, rumbas, son and other Cuban traditional and folkloric styles.
The Latin theme continues with the Bay Area Peruvian group De Rompe y Raja, who will showcase the art of zapateo criollo, a percussive dance form that mixes African rhythms with Creole, Spanish Roma, European, and indigenous Peruvian rhythms. The nine-piece group with Peruvian zapateo master Braulio Barrera, will perform an a cappella arrangement where the guitar and cajon accompaniment are expressed through vocal percussion .
Other performers at the 2009 Festival include LeeLa Petronio, a tap dancer from France who will be combining non-tap footwork with body percussion; Max Pollak, another soloist, performs what he calls RumbaTap, a form that combines foot-driven percussion with the organic flow of Afro-Cuban rumba; Rashidi Omari, a young Bay Area dancer who specializes in hip-hop contemporary dance, an expression derived from local Oakland culture marked by high energy and a frenetic pace; Festival director Keith Terry’s own solo contemporary body music as well as his duo work with Evie Ladin; the Prescott Clowns, an Oakland youth performance group led by hambone artist Derique McGee; and a student performance group from the San Francisco School, led by Sofia Ibor Lopez.
The Festival—which erodes the global/local divide—also creates opportunities for local body musicians to rub shoulders with international performers, not only in formal programming, but also at the Open Mic Night and their Closing Party, which is open to the public. Both events are expected to launch spontaneous collaborations.
While the International Body Music Festival raises awareness of this music/dance meta-form and gives it a name, it also creates a place for both local and international performers who can be performative misfits. “This is going to be really interesting not only for the audiences, but the artists too,” he says. “What happens when you put beatboxers in this context? I was telling Kenny Muhammad about Indonesian kecak and Inuit throatsinging, both of which we had last year. These are musicians who may not know about each other or even their genres, but who are making related music. When I play a tap dance festival, I am usually the odd one out. A lot of the artists coming to the Festival don’t quite fit into a box either. When they come here suddenly they are in a box with others who work outside the box.”
“We’ve polluted the gene pool by doing this festival,” jokes Terry. “In the past, we were operating in isolation. The Festival is a conduit, creating a gathering place for these musician/dancers to hang out, interact, learn from each other and play. These connections are continuing outside the Festival context, as well as in our local communities.”
Festival Venues and Schedule
This year’s Festival performances will be more spread out over the Bay Area than in its first year, and will take place in a variety of high-quality and larger venues than in the past, including the 1000-seat Herbst Theater in downtown San Francisco for the larger ensembles, the new state-of-the-art Freight and Salvage Theater in downtown Berkeley for the Solos and Duos show, the Brava Theater in the Mission district for the Family Matinee, and La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley for the Open-Mic and Lecture/Demonstration. “It’s a way of spreading the Festival around, reaching different communities of the Bay Area,” explains Terry. Since last year’s teacher training workshop was at capacity with 60 classroom educators in attendance, this year will feature two, one on each side of the Bay. Assembly programs and workshops will be presented in schools and a teen community center in Oakland, and public workshops will be held at Zambaleta, a new world music school in San Francisco.
TUESDAY DECEMBER 1 - OAKLAND
4:00-6:00pm Teacher Training Workshop, Oakland
TIME TBD Teen Workshop, Oakland
WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 2 - OAKLAND, BERKELEY & SAN FRANCISCO
9:00/10:00am In-School Assembly Program & Workshop, Oakland
4:00-6:00pm Teacher Training Workshop, San Francisco
8:00pm Body Music OPEN-MIC, La Peña, Berkeley
THURSDAY DECEMBER 3 - OAKLAND & BERKELEY
9:00/10:00am In-School Assembly Program & Workshop, Oakland
8:00pm Lecture/Demonstration, La Peña, Berkeley
FRIDAY DECEMBER 4 - BERKELEY
8:00pm CONCERT #1, Solos and Duos
PROGRAM TO BE ANNOUNCED
Freight & Salvage, Berkeley
SATURDAY DECEMBER 5 - SAN FRANCISCO
ALL DAY WORKSHOPS, Body music workshops from Festival Artists in a variety of styles. Workshops are all open levels. We do not have children's classes, but if your kids are interested and focused, they are welcome in any workshop. Zambaleta, San Francisco
8:00pm CONCERT #2, PROGRAM TO BE ANNOUNCED, Herbst Theater, San Francisco
SUNDAY DECEMBER 6 - SAN FRANCISCO
2:00pm FAMILY MATINEE CONCERT, PROGRAM TO BE ANNOUNCED, Brava Theater, San Francisco
7:00pm CLOSING PARTY, Location TBD
Anecdotes of Impact: Festival Director Keith Terry Speaks
· “So many of the artists that were here last year are still in touch with me. I worked with KeKeÇa in Turkey this spring and I heard that Sandy Silva was just in Turkey working with them as well. Jeff Cressman, the soundman from our Festival, who was in Istanbul as trombonist with Santana, connected with them too. These connections are going on long after the Festival. People are collaborating together. I got an invitation to work with Marcelo from Barbatuques to work with him in France. We are creating this kind of community.”
· “We got so much feedback of how powerfully these artists affected people. The main thing was that people felt like the performers were so honest. It really moved people deeply. I still get emails or comments at concerts, where people will bring up a specific artist or concert and go on and on about one particular moment. It seemed like it really hit people hard.”
· “Last year there was a snafu with visas for the Brazilians, Barbatuques. At the last minute, we had to buy twelve roundtrip tickets from Sao Paolo, which really hit us financially. We did a pitch, not a heavy handed one at the concerts, taking about how presenting this international music is treacherous business. And we pretty much got that hit covered by donations. We really try to keep our ticket prices low to provide access to more audiences. And, I think as a result, people feel they can be more generous. That really touched me. It made me feel like: what a response! We’re talking about several thousand dollars. People really dug in their pockets. It just told me that we are on the right track. If people are feeling that strongly and that generous."
· “Last year’s Festival really brought out the various populations represented by the performers. I got contacted before the Turks arrived by a Turkish cultural association and they helped get the word out. All these Turks in the Bay Area started showing up. It was the same with the Brazilians. And the same with the French. It’s really great how it draws in all those populations. So the Brazilians were hanging out with the Turks and so forth. By the way many of the Turkish musicians are coming back to hang out at the festival; traveling from Istanbul to attend as audience members and volunteers. And some of the Brazilian musicians are threatening to come back as well. It should make for an interesting open mic night!”