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The World’s Best Music at Globalfest

For the past 15 years, Globalfest has been a true world party, bringing together a carefully curated selection of musical artists from every corner of the globe for what’s often the biggest show of their careers. It’s an amazing one-stop shop of new international music—2018’s festival will include performers from Brazil, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ireland, Serbia, India, and Georgia—and it also happens to be one of the favorite musical happenings of the year for both of our music experts, Meera Dugal and John Seroff.

Dugal and Seroff were so hyped about this year’s iteration of the marathon that they decided to meet and talk about the hidden gems they’re most looking forward to. Here, they share some insider tips on how to best enjoy the fest.

Meera Dugal: John, you’ve been attending Globalfest for more than a decade. Are you excited to go this year?

John Seroff: Tremendously excited! I’ve seen so many artists at that festival who have gone on to considerable international careers: Dengue Fever, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Tanya Tagaq, Fatoumata Diawara, Wang Li, Noura Mint Seymali, Sam Lee, and DakhaBrakha to name just a few. The real joy of this festival for a curious listener is the opportunity to find your new favorite acts before anyone else. Globalfest was located for a great many years at Webster Hall. Since that venue’s (apparently temporary) closing, it is enjoying a new renaissance at a triad of locations in Times Square. I’m wondering how this new atmosphere will sit with the chosen audience.

Dugal: As you know, I had the pleasure of working with Globalfest for several years during its time at Webster Hall. The three-level club would be taken over by global music fans and arts industry presenters in town for the APAP conference; it was like a Barbie Dreamhouse… if Barbie was a globally conscious music fan.

Seroff: Mattel should make one of those; I might buy it!

Dugal: One of the many things that makes Globalfest special is that it enables artists who haven’t performed Stateside to play live in front of so many people who can really impact their careers. The festival is open to the general public, but the target audience is programmers and arts presenters from around the country who are in town to see new talent and book their season. Playing the festival often leads to a full slate of U.S. bookings and national press. The directors of Globalfest—Shanta Thake, Isabel Soffer, and Bill Bragin—are powerful tastemakers in terms of breaking new artists into the U.S. market and creating a viable economic pathway to increase opportunities for artists from around the world to share their music with American audiences. I really appreciate that they approach their curation with an eye toward cultural diplomacy, making sure that performers from everywhere from Cuba to Iran can make inroads to sharing their music and culture with communities across the country.

Seroff: We should probably note here that it’s not a prerequisite to hail from outside of the U.S. to perform at Globalfest. The festival welcomes underheard artists of all stripes, whether they’re traditional blues, gospel, or folk musicians or otherwise. That’s meant as a segue to one of the acts I’m particularly excited about seeing live this year, a New York City–based band that bills itself as the first all-female mariachi group, Flor de Toloache. This has been a really successful year for them; they just won a Latin Grammy for best ranchero album and are catching cosigns from NPR and Questlove alike. What makes them really stand out, in my opinion, is the clarity and accessibility of their music: It honors and updates the tradition of mariachi, but they’re not afraid to take forays into English lyrics and more pop-rock–style songwriting. It doesn’t hurt that they’re all knockout musicians.

Dugal: Personally, I’m excited to hear Grand Tapestry live. The band is bringing traditional Indian classical music into new territory with a collaboration featuring two great virtuosos of the genre—Alam Khan on sarode and Salar Nader on tabla—with L.A. rapper Eligh. Khan is one of my favorite sarode players; he’s a disciple of Master Ali Akbar Khan. Nader is a tabla genius; his guru is Zakir Hussain. These young maestros of the Indian classical music world are probably giving their parents a heart attack with this venture into hip hop, but I am totally digging it! I really appreciate the thoughtful approach to bringing new dimensions to both genres. They’re scheduled as the last set of Globalfest this year, aka “the party set.” The programmers generally set the evening up so that the crowd ends the night with a wild dance party.

Seroff: Can I go in a completely different direction here? I’m really looking forward to Iberi, the Georgian polyphonic choir.

Dugal: Oh, absolutely, me too! I love polyphonic chant and choral music. The way they’re able to build a whole sonic universe out of just their voices is insane—it almost feels like something you can physically touch.

Seroff: I know what you mean. As it happens, the first concert I ever bought my own ticket to was for Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares back in 1990! The precision and contrast of well-performed polyphony is so enigmatic and powerfully engaging. Iberi’s recorded works aren’t readily available in the West, but I’ve been listening to sample tracks and I believe they’re going to be outstanding.

Dugal: Vocalist Eva Salina also draws inspiration from the Eurasian region with her beautiful interpretations of Balkan music. She’s joined at this show by the beloved accordionist Peter Stan; they’ve been playing together forever. Salina has an amazingly diverse repertoire, and her devastatingly beautiful voice can have you crying and laughing all within the span of five minutes.

Seroff: That’s a hell of a recommendation! The Globalfest musician who’s evoking that level of enthusiasm in me is Jarlath Henderson. He is a young Celtic folk musician out of Ireland whose excellent debut album, Hearts Broken, Heads Turned, came out last year. I’ve had his song “Courting Is a Pleasure” on repeat for a month now; I imagine he would be a natural upgrade for anyone who likes The Lumineers or Bon Iver.

Dugal: I personally can’t get Cuban artist La Dame Blanche’s tunes out of my head; they were at the top of all my dance party playlists for the holidays. The lead singer, Yaite Ramos Rodriguez, mixes hip hop, dancehall, cumbia, and reggae. She sings, plays percussion and flute, and rocks deliciously flamboyant outfits, to boot.

Seroff: As long as we’re in the Caribbean, let’s talk about about Miramar. Their last major project focused on the works of Puerto Rican bolero composer Sylvia Rexach. That album was a sepia-tinted delight, laced with the nostalgic longing and sadness that’s at the heart of so much bolero music. In a moment where Puerto Ricans are being treated like second-class American citizens, a celebration of the country’s rich music history seems much needed.

Dugal: I’m a big fan of Miramar myself; I caught them last year at the amazing Secret Planet showcase, and their set was nothing short of seductive. My last lineup pick would be Delgres, the Guadeloupe trio that draws from a Creole and blues sound that recalls the Mississippi Delta as much as it does the North African desert blues. I’ve never heard a group that gets me going like Robert Johnson and Tinariwen at the same time—it’s strange and intoxicating.

Seroff: I would strongly advise any first-timers to plan a fairly rigorous schedule to make sure you get a chance to see every musician you’re interested in. The producers are kind enough to provide the schedule in advance so you can chart your course between the three venues that are hosting the event. Meera, what’s the best piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get the most out of the experience?

Dugal: Wear sneakers; you’re going to be on your feet and on the move for hours. Also, set a goal to give all the acts a fair listen. The evening’s schedule is crafted in a way that you can run from stage to stage and see at least 15 minutes from everyone. That being said, just enjoy yourself if you’re jamming out!

Seroff: I agree! If you find yourself so entranced by one artist that you forget you’re at a festival, that’s sort of a best-case scenario.

Dugal: Worst-case scenario, you get to see a dozen outstanding artists for the first time. You really can’t lose!

globalFEST 2018
B.B. King Blues Club, Liberty Theater, and Lucille’s Grill
West 42nd Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), Times Square
Sunday, January 14
7 p.m.–1 a.m.

Pregame with a global-spanning dance party inside your apartment…or we can arrange it for you.