When Israeli-born, NYC-based producer Nili Belkind and singer-guitarist Dalia Faitelson, also born in Israel and currently residing in Copenhagen, first came up with the idea of a two-way, ongoing cultural exchange between musicians from their respective hometowns, it must have seemed like a pipe dream. The Cultural Ministry of Denmark had already decided to bankroll events promoting such artistic interfaces, but who knew that on-site collaborations between world music artists living in either place would be one of the projects to win funding? But with some help from Irene Krarup, Cultural Attaché at the Royal Consulate of Denmark in New York, the Draconian logistics of importing four bands into the USA gradually came together: visas were acquired, living and practice accommodations secured, and a venue booked. The result was an exhilarating, revealing and constantly surprising series of rehearsals, which led to an inspiring evening of performances at the Makor Cultural Center on New York’s Upper West Side.
“When Dalia and I came up with the idea,” says Belkind, “we knew that we wanted to do something that would create community; not just your typical visiting artists’ show-and-run. It’s quite rare that world music artists come to create something new here, with local artists and musicians. They usually just come to perform. That’s why we created this collaborative residency. The process was more important to us that the showcase results.”
“Matching up the Danish artists with the NY talent felt like a huge risk,” she continues. “You never know how the chemistry will work and whether everyone will come through. But they did!”
Co-producer Faitelson concurs. “I never expected ‘Global Village DK/NY’ to be such a success story. Putting all those musicians together who had never met each other before and with totally different backgrounds–you need a lot of good will, magic potions and some luck. I’ve chosen to work with the Danish musicians that I believe in and know that their talent, attitude and personality would fit this mission. Nili was wonderful in finding the NY musicians that would fit the Danes. But the biggest satisfaction is in knowing that this doesn't stop here. Most of us will keep in touch, and we are hoping to invite the NY artists to Denmark.”
The personnel involved (following the laws of hospitality, the visiting Danes are mentioned first, their American hosts second) were as daring and unexpected as the concept itself.
Faitelson, herself an award-winning guitarist/singer-songwriter, formed a pan-Middle Eastern alliance with Moroccan percussionist and oud player Brahim Fribgane, plus violinist and oud master Rachid Halihal.
Avant-garde cabaret singer Laila Skovmand, with her swooping, soaring vocal inventions (she calls her band Symfobia), gleefully demolished boundaries alongside innovative Chinese pipa virtuoso Min Xiao-Fen and Argentinean bandoneón (accordion) player Hector Del Curto.
Serbian-born Gypsy accordion champion Lelo Nika, accompanied by master tambal (cimbalom) player George Mihalache and bassist Andreou Panagiotis, sat in with Brazilian-born jazz pianist Helio Alves and drummer Jordan Perlson.
The high-spirited and hilariously over-the top Balkan/Scandinavian “bastard-ethno” outfit Afenginn were teamed with the equally irrepressible and brilliantly inventive trumpeter Frank London, of Klezmatics fame. There were also other players involved, and as some people were performing with more than one ensemble, additional cross-pollinations naturally occurred.
Many of the Danish players had never previously visited New York City, or even the USA, so aside from finding themselves in new musical contexts, they were also dealing with jet lag and culture shock. But everyone was far too busy forming helpful friendships and fashioning their part of the showcase to let such mundanities get in their way. The members of Afeng