New and Veteran World Music Stars Light Up globalFEST 2023 at Lincoln Center

Over its 20-year history, globalFEST has become one of NYC’s most anticipated annual concert events, a multi-act spectacular that has introduced intrepid music-lovers and professional tastemakers alike to over 200 dynamic artists from 70 different countries. 

On Sunday, January 15, its 2023 edition spanned three stages at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall showcasing 10 electrifying acts, from the Cambodian-American psychedelic rock of Dengue Fever to Mexico’s punk and marimba-inflected Son Rompe Pera to America’s new first family of gospel and 2022 NEA Heritage Fellows, The Legendary Ingramettes.

L to R – Meera Dugal, 2023 guest curator; Ian Thake, gF administrator; Isabel Soffer, co-founder and director; Bill Bragin, co-founder and co-director; Shanta Thake, co-director and Lincoln Center Artistic Director.

globalFEST takes place during JanArtsNYC, an annual collective of hot festivals showcasing all forms of performing arts during New York’s coldest month – from theater and dance to opera and jazz, the latter via the also much-anticipated WinterJazzFest. Importantly, these all coincide with APAP, The Association of Performing Arts Professionals.  This convention brings hundreds of bookers from performing arts centers and independent venues all across the country to sample new artists whom they can contract for performances. In large part via coinciding with APAP, globalFEST has helped jumpstart the domestic touring careers of notables like Antibalas, Angelique Kidjo, Amythyst Kiah, Martha Redbone, Rhiannon Giddens to name a few.  This year’s lineup was curated by festival co-directors Bill Bragin, Isabel Soffer and Shanta Thake, who helped bring the event to Lincoln Center via her role as its Chief Artistic Officer. Meera Dugal served as a guest curator.

globalFEST is not only one of the most original and ear-opening music festivals, but one of the most well-run and compact.  Within the space of five hours, attendees can revel in truly original sounds from a multitude of artists covering many distinct genres from every corner of the globe. 

photo credit: Farah Sosa/@farahstop

The first act I caught at this year’s event was The Legendary Ingramettes. Inspired by the Black male gospel quartets of the 1940s and 50s, this multi-generational female singing trio, founded by the late Maggie Ingram and now led by her dynamic daughter Almetta, brought roof-raising harmonies and explosive lead vocals to light an early fire at globalFEST.  Aletta and crew imparted a Sunday church vibe with pulverizing takes on up-tempo numbers like “Take A Look In the Book” and “Time Is Winding Up.” They then soaked every ounce of pathos out of their gospelized ballad including “I’ve Endured,” the classic by Appalachian folkie Ola Belle Reid, and Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands.”

Another standout performance was that of Llergo (Maria Jose), a young flamenco singer from Andalucia, Spain with a deep knowledge of both the classic form and a penchant for experimentation and avant-garde touches. Her set began with a stirring ballad accompanied by the stellar guitar work of Marc Lopez, who served up fiery runs and foot stomping percussives to adorn her alternatively whispering and searing vocals.  In later songs in the set, they were accompanied by a keyboardist who introduced ethereal synth textures and trip hop beats from his laptop – modern flavors that bring to mind the groundbreaking work of another great Latina who fuses tradition with electronica, Juana Molina.

photo credit: Farah Sosa/@farahstop

The duo of Brit Justin Adams and Italian Mauro Durante was another highlight.  Adams, who has been the producer of Mali’s guitar greats Tinariwen’s albums and also guitarist for Robert Plant’s world music forays, laid down a distorted post-punk take on Arabic and African trance blues. This was complemented by Durante’s searing violin solos, tambourine and vocals.  Their collaboration contained shades of delta blues, Southern Italian “taranta” dance songs and even a bit of No Wave/free jazz that brought to mind guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer’s wonderful Odyssey trio of the mid-1980s.  The performance by Malian/French quartet Tamikrest also plied the Saharan desert blues sound. Unlike their better-known counterparts, Mdou Moctar, Tamikrest is more intent on building collective danceable grooves rather than serving as a rhythmic backdrop for Hendrix-inspired soloing.

The award for best crowd work at globalFEST 2023 definitely goes to Khadija El Warzazia’s Bnat el Houariyat & Esraa Warda. A collective of six female artists from Morocco, Algeria and the U.S., they served up a high-energy set of celebratory trance music, one featuring call-and-response singing, roaring percussion and complex polyrhythms. The mesmerizing Algerian-American dancer Esraa Warda completed the sensory assault with non-stop gyrations and a “hair-swaying dance” that was copied by more than a few in the audience.   An almost as engaging performance was that of Moonlight Benjamin.  Born in Haiti and living in France, she is both vodou priestess and a powerful singer-songwriter in the rock mode.  Moonlight was supported by a killer band featuring dueling guitarists who employed a smart use of stomp boxes and an uncaged noise pop sensibility.

photo credit: Farah Sosa/@farahstop

One of the biggest draws of the event was Dengue Fever, the L.A.-based band that has been providing a singular psychedelic take on the Cambodian pop of the 1960s since 2002.  The band, which had played the 2007 edition of globalFEST, spun-out a crowd-pleasing set comprised of tunes from their six-album discography.  As always, the attention was focused on their lead singer Chhom Nimol, who gracefully populated the role of the cool, elegant chanteuse in a bedazzled mini-dress.  While the focus is firmly on the singer and the songs, Dengue Fever provided plenty of instrumental fire from the spaced out guitaring of Zac Holtzman, the gut-bucket tenor sax of David Ralicke and in an extended solo by bassist Senon Williams.  

Dengue Fever was followed on the big stage by Meridian Brothers & El Grupo Renacimiento, one of the most wildly creative bands to come out of Colombia in many years.  Per their bio, the band works to “excavate the forgotten sounds of the fantastical (imaginary)1970s salsa dura band, El Grupo Renacimiento. The group identifies as “B-class” salsa whose music explores human struggles in the urban city landscape, with themes such as police brutality, social marginalization and addiction.” Like Dengue Fever, there’s an accent on psychedelic effects and exploration, with deluges of reverb and dub stylings in the mix.  Fans of Brazil’s Tropicalia pioneers, Os Mutantes, will definitely love Meridian Brothers. They had the crowd in their hands from the first number, a psychedelic spin on Dusty Springfield’s classic, “Son of A Preacher Man,” sung in Spanish of course.

photo credit: Farah Sosa/@farahstop

Other artists on the roster included the classically-inspired New York Arabic Orchestra and the garage-marimba-cumbia rock of Mexico City’s Son Rompe Pera, two sets I unfortunately missed. Credit should also go to event production manager Danny Kapilian who made sure the sets went off seamlessly with top-notch sound and lighting.

Those who missed the event can catch NPR Music’s Tiny Desk meets globalFEST, a series that will return for its third year, January 24 –  26 on the NPR Music YouTube channel. The series will present exclusive video performances from nine artists filmed in their respective homelands and a different lineup from the festival at Lincoln Center. NPR’s Tiny Desk Meets globalFEST will once again be hosted by five-time Grammy Award winner Angelique Kidjo, who performed at the first globalFEST festival in 2004.

To hear more, check out globalFEST 2023’s Spotify playlist

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