The term “world music” is a meaningless misnomer. You might as well discuss Thai cuisine as being “world food.” The concept became common in the 1980s, primarily as a method to segregate international recordings under a single umbrella at your local record shop. But with the effective decimation of the recording industry and mainstream radio’s recent embrace of K-pop, bachata, and reggaeton, just what is world music today?
For the cunning programmers of globalFEST, world music is about folk traditions—both new and old—that reflect an ever-increasing rate of cultural cross-pollination. It’s also an excellent excuse to bring artists to New York to find bigger audiences. GlobalFEST cofounder Shanta Thake says that “it’s increasingly complex to bring foreign ensembles to the U.S., so as a presenting community, we need to push this genre forward.” That’s how a dozen musicians or groups from around the world came to be booked for a single night at a single venue. This year, it’s happening Sunday, January 6, on three separate stages at the Copacabana, and it may be your best shot to see these rising international stars.
As 12 of anything, no matter how good, in one night might be a bit much, here I’ve narrowed the list to the five acts you shouldn’t miss.
7 p.m. on the third-floor rooftop: Debashish Bhattacharya
From his early years as a Calcutta prodigy in the 1960s until today, Bhattacharya has devoted himself to the mastery of Indian classical music on the slide guitar. Constant experimentation eventually gave way to new instrumentation and Bhattacharya’s creation of the Chaturangui, or Hindustani slide guitar, a rethinking of the lap steel guitar designed explicitly for the demands of raga performance. His latest album is a love letter to the lap steel’s tropical roots, Hawaii to Calcutta. For his globalFEST set, the master will perform both Hawaiian traditionals and Indian classical.
8:15 p.m. on the rooftop: Magos Herrera and Brooklyn Rider
As evidenced by past work with such diverse composers as Béla Fleck, Philip Glass, and Gabriel Kahane, New York–based chamber quartet Brooklyn Rider has developed a reputation as the go-to collaborator for fresh takes on multigenre creations. Their latest project is 2018’s Dreamers, an exquisite album featuring the Mexico City–born jazz chanteuse Herrera setting the poetry of Lorca, Paz, and Rubén Darío to song and covering traditional folk and pop classics from Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico. The album’s title and the deep tone of saudade that permeates most of Dreamers contains an obvious allusion to our dark political moment, but the depth and beauty of Herrera and Brooklyn Rider’s nuanced take on these gems of the Latin diaspora transcends the ugly present with hints of the beauty a unified America has to offer.
8:55 p.m. in the second-floor ballroom: 47Soul
Based out of London but founded in Jordan, the Palestinian quartet 47Soul play a high-energy mix of global pop, with all its hip hop and disco signifiers, and a modernized electronic take on the high-energy Arabic celebration music dabke, which they call shamstep. The band’s music is immensely danceable and intentionally inclusive, a consistently positive message of cultural unity sung in a variety of languages. Following a pair of million-stream video tracks, 47Soul is poised to go big worldwide; this globalFEST appearance represents their overdue U.S. debut.
10:10 p.m. in the ballroom: Orquesta Akokan
The first time I heard Akokan’s self-titled 2018 debut album, released on the local soul label Daptone Records, I was certain it was a newly reissued classic mambo set from the ’50s. Surprisingly, this 14-piece, smoking-hot ensemble is less than two years old, a carefully constructed band of Cuban musicians with strident lead vocalist José “Pepito” Gómez at the helm. The result is dazzling Latin soul and lightning in a bottle live.
10:45 p.m. on the rooftop: Amythyst Kiah
The Tennessee-born Kiah is a solid hand on both banjo and guitar, but it’s her yearning and resonant voice that earns comparison to Southern blues and rock legends like Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Bessie Smith. Following touring dates with Rhiannon Giddens and Toshi Reagon, Kiah is due for her star turn. She’ll be playing music from her debut album, Dig, and her more recent self-titled EP with her combo, Her Chest of Glass.
268 West 47th Street (between Broadway and Eighth Avenue), Times Square
Sunday, January 6
First set at 7 p.m.