Music in Portuguese Sweeps New York

Par Neiburger, artistic director of the World Music Institute, which is celebrating 30 years of bringing music from around the world to the attention of audiences in the US and elsewhere. (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Par Neiburger, artistic director of the World Music Institute, which is celebrating 30 years of bringing music from around the world to the attention of audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere. (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Just two weeks ago, on Aug. 26, the Brazilian band Os Mutantes canceled their concert in Belo Horizonte.

Their guitar player, Sérgio Dias, had become infected by a rare bacterium during a routine trip to the hospital. Feverish and with uncontrollable blood pressure, he was in a hospital fighting the serious infection.

Fantcha, from Cape Verde, opens for Ana Carolina on September 17 at the Lusophone Festival (Photo by Gilles Larrain, courtesy of World Music Institute)

Fantcha, from Cape Verde, opens for Ana Carolina on Sept. 17 at the Lusophone Festival (Photo by Gilles Larrain, courtesy of World Music Institute)

In the New York offices of World Music Institute, alarms went off: the band was a central piece in their Lusophone Festival, taking place in New York City beginning tonight, Sept. 15, and running through Friday, Sept. 18.

“A lot of other musicians would have cancelled under such conditions,” said Par Neiburger, the artistic director of World Music Institute. But Sérgio just “refused to let anything stop him.”

And so, this Tuesday, Sérgio and his bandmates will be on stage at (Le) Poisson Rouge, in the West Village, to kick off a four-night cross-cultural festival of music from the Portuguese-speaking world with artists from Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde, Angola, and Mozambique.

“Having an event with artists from Portuguese-speaking countries allows us to have one event where so many different parts of the world come together,” Neiburger explains. “We have Brazil, Europe, different countries in Africa, all coming together under one event that is tied together by the commonality of language.”

Singer Ana Carolina hails from Portugal (Photo by Leo Aversa, courtesy of World Music Institute)

Singer Ana Carolina hails from Portugal (Photo by Leo Aversa, courtesy of World Music Institute)

The idea of holding the festival came up a year ago, and World Music Institute quickly decided to open its 30th anniversary season with the Lusophone Festival. It was a perfect fit for the nonprofit organization, which was created in 1985, to introduce world music and dance in the United States. Two of its missions, Neiburger explains, “are to produce events that are cross-cultural” and “present lesser known artists to a wider audience.”

When it came time to choose a band from Brazil, Mutantes was one of the first options. Neiburger has been a fan of the band, known as the kings of Brazilian psychedelia, for more than 20 years. “It’s one of my favorite bands of all time and they have been so tremendously influential on modern music, particularly in America,” he says. “Artists such as Beck and Nirvana considered them to be huge influences and they continue to have a cult status that is largely unparalleled.”

After securing the band (their Tuesday show is the only appearance on this U.S. visit), the organization wanted someone in the forefront of contemporary Brazilian music. And that’s how they chose Ana Carolina. Neiburger believes “the juxtaposition of having an older, classic, group that is very avant-garde and having a modern singer that is much more of a pop singer exemplified the wide variety of music from Brazil.”

Performer Isabella Novella is from Mozambique (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Performer Isabel Novella is from Mozambique (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Brazilian music is well known to American audiences, but the music of many of the other cultures is not. That made choosing the other artists much more challenging.

From Portugal, the institute’s organizers were set from the beginning on having the melancholic and elegant musical genre of fado. The little known Lula Pena first came to their attention through friends who saw her at World Music Expo last year in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

“She is an artist that is known for being reclusive, so she is not widely known, but anyone that hears her music instantly falls in love with it,” Neiburber believes. “[She] is particularly interesting because she combines the Cape Verdean [musical genre] morna and Brazilian bossa nova so her music, itself, shows the ways that Lusophone music cultures cross-pollinate.”

Fado singer Lula Pena performs September 16 (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Fado singer Lula Pena performs September 16 (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

World Music Institute is particularly committed to discovering emerging talent in Africa. They held the Africa Now! festival, at the Apollo, twice, and introduced many African artists to the American audience. One of them is Isabel Novella, from Mozambique, who participated in the festival last year and will now return with her Afropolitan sound to open for Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca on Sept. 18.

“Ricardo Lemvo is an incredible musician from Angola who incorporates many influences into his music including salsa,” Neiburger says. “That show is going to be a dance party without a doubt.”

Ricardo Lemvo, performing September 18 (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Ricardo Lemvo, performing Sept. 18 (Photo courtesy of World Music Institute)

Rounding out the lineup, there’s Fantcha, from Cape Verde. The World Music Institute organizers trusted the judgment of the greatest voice of the archipelago, the deceased Cesária Évora. “Fantcha was her protégé,” explains Neiburger.

After 30 years of hosting hundreds of artists from dozens of countries around the world, from India to Iran to Hungary to Korea, World Music Institute believes it’s continuing its mission with these four nights. Neiburger says they “have received a tremendous amount of support” from the different Lusophone communities in the area, who never had an event like this in the city. “We feel that the bridging of these different cultures under the umbrella of one event is something that people have had a very positive response to.”

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