Spaulding to take a trip around the world

by Abigail Nova | 5/10/02 5:00am

Tonight Dartmouth's third annual world music festival, "Feel the Spirit," presented by the World Music Percussion Ensemble, comes to Spaulding Auditorium. Featuring the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir, the Bala Bala Band, Jerome Greene '04 and the duo Afro-Cuban Sons, the night promises to deliver a stirring combination of sacred and secular music.

The World Music Percussion Ensemble was founded in the early '80s as the West African Drumming Ensemble. As the group evolved, the name was changed to reflect its wider range of musical influences, including salsa, calypso and blues. Just as the ensemble has grown since its founding, so has the genre known as world music.

Many critics feel that the definition of any musical genre can only be arrived at by considering it in relation to others. Accordingly, some musical genres are defined on the basis of what they are not, rather than what they are. For example, the genre of world music has often been defined as music that is "non-Western."

In a widely read article in The New York Times, the musician David Byrne objected to the term "world music" as a catch-all phrase for highly diverse and geographically dispersed styles of music, saying that the term "groups everything that isn't 'us' into 'them.'" Peter Gabriel, in an interview with Salon Magazine, took a more literal view and defined world music as "music that's made in the world."

Derek Hansen '02, a member of the WMPE, probably had the most coherent definition, "There's been a lot of hype over 'world music,' and I think commercialization has severely diluted and generalized what can be a very powerful genre or concept. More than merely a gathering and fusion of regional rhythms, world music in its most potent and meaningful form is the gathering of cultures, the exchange of tradition, the acceptance of disparate beliefs and the reconciliation of spiritual values through the language of music. World music is about recognizing similarity and difference across cultures and celebrating both, honoring both."

While the debate over terminology still rages, tonight's World Music Percussion Ensemble concert will surely provide a dose of the musical reality of the genre.

The ensemble is composed of Dartmouth professors and students as well as community members. This years group consists of Vijay Rao '03, Thomas Nichol '02, Kristina Hennessey '02, Susan Lee '02, Adam Ballard '00, Garrett Jones '04, Charles Chip Rountree '05, Thomas Aquaman Weisharr '02, Ian Sarr '05, Derek Hansen '02, Casey Reider '03 and Anathan Krishna '05.

Community member James Taylor and Katie Dilibero will also participate in the performance.

Before joining the World Music Percussion Ensemble, many of the students in the group had never studied percussion. Because these students were new, they didn't have preconceived ideas about music and music making, said director Hafiz Shabazz, adding, "This freshness adds to the excitement of the group."

Shabazz is also an ethnomusicologist, percussionist, performer and lecturer. Before teaching at Dartmouth, Shabazz studied at the University of Ghana and the Federal University of Bahia, Brazil and toured with Wind and Thunder, in which he played improvisational jazz and non-Western music.

The Bala Bala Band, a world jazz band, comprised of Ron Smith, Dara Adams, Bill Craig and Hafiz Shabazz will perform along with Jerome Greene '04, a featured tenor saxophonist and poet.

The Afro-Cuban Sons, comprised of the husband and wife team of Ariel Cahn Flores and Rafael Flores, will also be perform at the festival along with Capo Regime and Divine Mathematics.

While tonight's performance focuses on the musical tradition of worship, past performances have focused on topics as diverse as the meaning of Mardi Gras music in February 2002 to "Moon over Rhythm" in May 1999 which explored the ritual music of the Caribbean and Africa.

The energy and enthusiasm of the performers as well as their ability to include the audience in their music making has given the group a strong following. As one member of the World Music Percussion Ensemble said, each of the group's performances is "pure energy."