Live Concert Photography: Barbes and Electric Cowbell Records Present Secret Planet APAP Showcase at DROM 1/5/19 feat. Yonatan Gat and the Eastern Medicine Singers, Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC), Mdou Moctar, Bil Afrah Project, Yeni Nostalji and Toomai String Quartet with Miss Yaya
The Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) is a national service, advocacy and membership organization for those within the performing arts — particularly within dance and theater; but they’ve also developed a reputation for their involvement with musicians and artists who specialize in “world music.” Along with an annual conference, which features discussion panels, lectures, networking sessions and more for artists producing, recording and creating art in an extremely complicated political landscape both here in the States and elsewhere, there are number of curated showcases hosted and/or sponsored by a handful of the city’s major “world music” venues. And those showcases typically feature an incredibly diverse array of artists performing material across an even wider range of styles and genres. Throughout JOVM’s almost nine year history, it’s been an annual tradition that I cover some of APAP’s musical offerings — and they’re often a highlight of the musical year.
Barbes, a South Slope, Brooklyn-based bar and performance space, owned and operated by two French musicians and long-time Brooklyn residents derives its name from the Northern Paris neighborhood of Barbes. Interestingly, the neighborhood is best known for discount stores, a large North African population and some of Paris’ best record stores; in fact, many of the record stores in the Barbes section helped launched the explosion of Rai music in the mid 1980s. The venue, inspired by the Parisian neighborhood it derives its name, focuses on conviviality, bargain hunting (in terms of drink specials) and cultural variety through eclectic programming. At any given point you may see Lebanese folk, Latin protest songs, Mexican bandas, Romanian brass bands, psychedelic Colombian cumbia and countless other things within their intimate performance space. But perhaps more important, the venue’s management believes that they fill an important gap within a neighborhood that still is home to large community of artists, musicians and writers but offers very little in terms of performance venues, reading spaces and so on. Founded by Jim Thomson, Electric Cowbell Records is a Brooklyn-based record label that specializes in an eclectic, anything goes approach to funk, dance music, left field pop and anything else under the sun. Throughout APAP’s annual run Barbes and Electric Cowbell Records have co-hosted or co-presented at least one APAP showcase at DROM in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, including annual Secret Planet Showcase earlier this year, which featured acclaimed Israeli-born, New York-based guitarist, bandleader, composer and producer Yonatan Gat collaborating with the Providence, RI-based intertribal Algonquin language drum and vocal group, The Eastern Medicine Singers; the Soweto, South Africa-based collective, Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC); the internationally acclaimed Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar; the New York-based Arabic music instrumental act The Bil Afrah Project; the Richmond, VA-based Turkish language, world music act Yeni Nostalji; and the New York-based Toomai String Quartet, an ensemble that performs music across the classical and contemporary repertoire — while exploring and arranging music from various genres and styles from around the world, collaborating with Miss Yaya, a New York-based Tropical vocalist. Sadly, I was suffering from a terrible cold and didn’t stay until the end; but check out photos from an incredible night of music.
Over the course of the previous decade, the Israeli-born, New York-based guitarist, bandleader, composer and producer Yonatan Gat became known as one of the world’s top performers as a founding member and lead guitarist of Israeli shock rock act Monotonix, an act so controversial in their homeland that they were completely banned from performing there.
Unable to play shows in his home country and refusing to take part in its mandatory military service, Gat relocated to New York, where he began recording and performing as a bandleader. 2014’s debut EP, Iberian Passage maintained his long-held reputation for raw and energetic performances but while finding his approaching leaning to a more ritualistic, improvised and shamanic musical exploration. The following year Gat released his full-length debut, Director, a critically praised, genre-bending effort, comprised of live improvisations and field recordings that possessed elements of Brazilian psych, Afrobeat, free jazz, surf rock and 20th Century avant-garde music.
Gat’s sophomore effort, last year’s Universalists found him refining his skills as a guitarist, bandleader and producer, with the album featuring experimentations with splicing live-to-tape recordings in ways that draw comparisons to contemporary avant-garde music, electric era Miles Davis and Brazilian psych rock experimentalists Os Mutantes (with whom he released a split 7 inch). Sonically, the album finds Gat employing vocals, vibraphones, horns, strings and samples with the material based around live, improvised recordings in different studios.
Recently Gat and his trio have been collaborating with the Providence, RI-based Algonquin language intertribal drum group, featuring Ray Watson, Daryl Jamieson,
Darrel Bland, Curtis Bland, Dean Robinson, Harry Young, Merv Johnson, Arty Crippen,
Kat Crippen, Ruben Uttiaira, Kevin Hazard, Ollie Best, Desy Abrahams, Debbie Young and
Michelle Johnson dedicated to preserving Eastern Woodlands music. Together, their collaboration meshed the ancient with the contemporary in a way that feels simultaneously urgent and timeless.
Comprised of KG, Hloni, Luja, Jovi, Cheex and Skhumbuzo, the Soweto, South Africa-based act Bantu Continua Uhuru Consciousness (BCUC) sonically draws inspiration from indigenous African music that isn’t exposed within the mainstream — most notably ritual songs, shebeen songs and church songs with a hip-hop and punk rock-like attitude.
Mdou Moctar is an Agadez, Niger-based Tuareg singer/songwriter and guitarist, who was born in a small and remote village in central Niger steeped in strict, religious tradition. As a boy, secular music was prohibited — and yet, a young Moctar taught himself to play on a homemade guitar, cobbled together out of wood. Several years passed before he found a real guitar and taught himself to play in secret. Once he began to master the guitar, Moctar immediately became a star amongst the village youth; but in a rather surprising turn, he began to win over the local religious leaders with songs that featured lyrics that touched upon themes of respect, honor and tradition.
In 2008, Moctar traveled to Nigeria, where he would eventually record his full-length debut, an album of spacey autotune, drum machine and synths that because a viral hit on the mp3 networks of West Africa — and was later released on the compilation Music from Saharan Cellphones. 2013 saw the release of his sophomore effort Afelan, which was compiled from field recordings of his performances recorded in his village. He then shifted gears to producing and starring in the world’s first Tuareg language film, a critically applauded remake of Prince‘s Purple Rain.
In 2017, Moctar changed directions again, recording the solo folk album Sousoume Tamachek, an effort that found playing every instrument on the album, while attempting to push Tuareg music as far as he could. Interestingly, his latest album Ilana may arguably be his most ambitious to date, as the material finds the Nigerien singer/songwriter and guitarist pushing Tuareg music in a gritty, blistering direction that live sounds indebted to Jimi Hendrix — although ironically enough, he was only recently introduced to rock music.
Currently comprised of Brian Prunka (oud), Bridget Robbins (nay), Marandi Hostetter (violin), Insia Malik (violin), Josh Farrar (buzuq, guitar), Zafer Tawil (qanum), Sprocket Royer (bass), Simon Moushabek (accordion), Vin Scialla (darbuka), and Michel Merhej Baklouk (riq), the New York-based collective The Bil Afrah Project features a diverse array of local musicians, who started the act to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the Middle East’s most legendary Ziad Rahbani‘s Bil Afrah, an instrumental song suite originally recorded in 1975 that features some of the Arabic world’s most beloved standards, as well as impressive improvisations. And while being a fan favorite that’s inspired countless musicians, the members of The Bil Afrah Project are one of the few that play the material in its entirely, live and in the actual album sequence.
Led by its founder Christina Marie (vocals, lyrics, composition) with Vlad Cuiujuclu (guitar, composition), Gary Kalar (guitar, arrangements), Emre Katari (drums) and Ayça Kartari, the Richmond, VA-based act Yeni Nostalji, features songs written and sung in Turkish, making the band one of the first Turkish language acts on an American label. And while its bandleader considers Turkey a second home, her songwriting is largely influenced by Leonard Cohen, Morrissey, Dolly Parton and the Turkish and European radio pop released between the 1960s-1980s — although their sound has been described as a seamless mashup of Bossa Nova, 60s French pop and modern indie pop ballads.
Comprised of Emilie-Anne Gendron (violin), Alex Fortes (violin), Erin Wight (viola), Hamilton Berry (cello) and Andrew Roitstein (bass), The Toomai String Quintet derives its name after the Rudyard Kipling short story “Toomai of the Elephants,” in which a young boy takes a journey into the jungle to watch the dance of wild elephants — and inspired by a similar sense of curiosity and discovery, the members of the ensemble are devoted to a mission of performing music from both the classical and contemporary repertories while also exploring and arranging music from around the world.
The ensemble won the 92nd Street Y‘s Music Unlocked! Competition for emerging ensembles and have played in many capacities throughout the US, making appearances at Lincoln Center, the 92nd Street Y, Philadelphia Arts Alliance, the Miami Civic Music Association among others. Adding to growing profile. the quintet was the pilot ensemble for Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program — and as a result, they continued to perform regular in schools, hospitals and alternative care facilities throughout Tthe New York City metropolitan area. They’ve also brought their array of educational programs to students in California, Florida and across the Northeast, including interactive concerts produced in collaboration with California Institute of the Arts, The Juilliard School and Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute.
Born Yahaira Antonia Vargas, the New York-born and based dancer, actor, vocalist and singer/songwriter Miss YaYa began singing at a very early age; in fact, her mother recalls Vargas humming and singing melodies — but instead of “La . . . La . . . La,” was singing “Ya . . . Ya . . . Ya.” When Vargas turned 5, she began singing at various school functions, and by the time she turned 10, she began writing her own original sons and poems.
While attending, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and Performing Arts, Vargas began to receive proper vocal training, as part of the Gospel Chorus and Senior Classical Chorus. After studying Broadcast Journalism at CUNY’s City College of New York, she starred as Maria in West Side Story, Jeanie in Hair and Luisa in The Fantastiks. Additionally, she competed in Univision‘s American Idol-like talent competition Gigantes Del Mañana, a segment on the channel’s beloved variety show Sabado Gigante and on P. Diddy’s Making The Band, eventually making it to the final 9 of 22 women chosen to live in a house together, during that season’s filming.
As a member of Sergio George’s legendary salsa group Dark Latin Soul, Vargas received a Grammy nod for Best Tropical Album of the Year and a Premio Lo Nuestro Award for Best Tropical Group of the Year.
While working on her full-length solo debut, Vargas, who specializes in Latin R&B and Tropicalia sung in English and Spanish, has collaborated with a number of local acts, including frequent collaborators The Toomai Street Quintet.