iFest's First Weekend Thick With Music, Humidity
For something that was still going on 24 hours ago, the first weekend of the Houston International Festival sure seems like a long way away now. That's what happens when one of the most monumental events of your lifetime happens when all you're trying to do is wind down from a long weekend of outdoor music in a muggy Bayou City spring.
Now, in hindsight, iFest's choice of "The Silk Road: Journey Across Asia" as its theme this year seems especially poignant. If you need to brush up on your world geography, the Silk Road is a network of overland trade routes that has been in use since ancient times. Effectively, it forms a belt between the Mediterranean and China - making Afghanistan and Pakistan the buckle.
Albeit via California, Afghanistan is also the homeland of the Homayun Sakhi Trio, which performed Friday with the Kronos Quartet at the opening-night gala and again Saturday afternoon on the HEB Cultural Stage, which is where we saw them. Sakhi is a master of the rubab, a stringed instrument known as the national instrument of Afghanistan which sounded a lot like a banjo to our Western ears.
Marco Torres This year's under-the-radar reggae vibes brought to you by Rootz Underground.
It was an all-too-timely reminder that music can create its own cross-cultural contexts where language, politics and diplomacy fail. The tuning, rhythm and instruments may be different - even strikingly so - than what we may be used to, but the desire to create something beautiful and personal, unique and universal, that says something about both its creator and its culture, is the same.
It happened two more times over the weekend, too: Watching a young student of the Wu Changlu School of Music plucking some beautiful harp-like tones out of a traditional Chinese guzheng - picture an overgrown dobro; it was bigger than she was - Sunday, and the hypnotic duet between saxophone and the zithery, gourdlike eponymous instrument of Senegal's Kora Connection Saturday.
That's what iFest is good at. That, and putting the native music of our own region on equal footing with the far-flung sounds from both its featured nations/diasporas and world-music perennials such as reggae, represented this time by the toasty Rootz Underground.