A unique public-private partnership is sparking a burst of international creativity that will migrate up the Eastern Seaboard and enliven the city of Charleston for a few days this week.
The U.S. State Department is sponsoring a project called OneBeat, which gathers musicians from around the world for a collaborative monthlong romp that starts in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., and ends in New York City.
Found Sound Nation, the social engagement arm of the new music group Bang on a Can, is producing the musical exchange program involving 32 artists from 21 countries.
The objective? Cultural diplomacy.
The crew stops in seven cities and joins forces with local musicians for collaborative learning, public concerts and recording sessions. The group will be in Charleston this week, Monday-Wednesday, working with local musical mainstays Quentin Baxter, Bill Carson, Rachel Kate Gillon, Joel Hamilton, Kevin Hamilton and Ron Wiltrout.
The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs sponsors a variety of cultural exchange programs to promote international dialogue and understanding. The bureau made a two-year grant available for OneBeat and partnered with Found Sound Nation to implement the project.
“The work of FSN uses the expressive power of music, audio and video production to give voice to underrepresented communities, unlock the creative potential of youth and build bridges between communities separated by cultures, economic disparities and geography,” states the official OneBeat overview.
Jeremy Thal, co-founder and artistic advisor of Found Sound Nation, is responsible for OneBeat programming and is one of 12 staffers (most are also musicians) chaperoning the fellows taking part in the program. He said stopping in Charleston was an early idea.
Thal lives in New York City and has several musician friends from the Lowcountry or with strong ties to the area, he said. He’s well-aware of the music scene in town, ideal for the kind of collaborative creativity the OneBeat program depends on.
Of the 32 fellows, 27 are foreign and five are American, he said. A variety of instruments are involved: voice, percussion, bass, fiddle, flute, guitar, sarode, oud and gayageum.
This makes for interesting combinations of sound and style, Thal said.
For example, when the fellows arrived at their Florida residency site on Sept. 10, many were jetlagged and off-kilter. Parsum Zola, a drummer from Kinshasa, Congo, and Sayak Barua, a sarode player from Calcutta, India, happened to awaken early.
“They were up early, stumbled upon one another jamming at seven in the morning, and then evidently the song that the Congolese guy was singing fit into a raga,” Thal said. A crosscultural song was born.
This is the sort of thing happening every day among the musicians, Thal said.
During the 12 days of residency, the group gets together in the mornings for exercises, improvisatory games and musical discussion. Then they break up into ensembles, some assigned, others formed by their participants, Thal said.
The players rehearse and record their ideas in a couple of permanent and mobile studios set up for that purpose. Some of the music is new, composed on the spot; some of it is older material rearranged for these new instrumental configurations.
Bill Carson, a Charleston musician known for his range of styles and collaborative skills, is working closely with Thal and his colleagues.
“As the plans developed, I just became their contact for Charleston and was sort of the site coordinator for all the things we’re going to do in Charleston,” he said.
The ideas flowed freely.
“We started coming up with a lot of things we could do here,” Carson said. “It turns out this is going to be the longest stop on the tour.”
Since cultural diplomacy is the goal, and since musical collaboration is the means to achieve it, it made sense to trek through the American South, where American popular music has its roots, Carson said.
After Charleston, the group will visit Asheville, N.C.; Floyd and Roanoke, Va.; and then proceed to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. In each city, concerts are scheduled.
Locally, OneBeat musicians and their Charleston collaborators will play at five separate venues on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Additionally, the musicians will participate in community outreach programs at Academic Magnet High School, Mitchell Elementary School, the Cannon Street Y and the College of Charleston.
On Monday afternoon, the OneBeat team will be in Marion Square making music. On Tuesday afternoon, beginning at 3:30, the group will offer a world rhythms workshop, open to the public, in the rehearsal room at the College of Charleston’s Simons Center for the Arts, where a mobile studio will be set up allowing visitors to experiment with sound. And on Wednesday, during the day, the musicians will be at the college’s John Rivers Communications Museum, 58 George St.
A free concert is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday at Redux Studios, 136 St. Philip St. A show featuring Carson’s Garage Cuban Band is planned for 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Pour House, 1977 Maybank Highway ($5). And a free concert is slated for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St.
“It’s been really exciting to plan all of these things,” Carson said. “It just has such potential to reach a lot of people and connect a lot of people. Using music in that way, especially across cultures, that just really speaks to me.”
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