performers 2019

Aleppo Ensemble

Aleppo Ensemble

Aleppian wasla music and whirling dervish dance from Syria
New York, New York

The Aleppo Ensemble is a New York-based group devoted to performing and preserving the rich heritage of wasla music, song, poetry, and dance from Aleppo. The group’s mission has been made all the more urgent in recent years with the physical and cultural destruction of Aleppo, long the cultural capital of Syria where Muslim, Christian, and Jewish traditions came together. Through their work, they strive to reach Syrian refugees as well as Syrian Americans whose history in the U.S. goes back over a hundred years, two groups that share the fear that they are witnessing the destruction of their homeland. The Aleppo Ensemble’s music and story is a timely reminder that cultural traditions are often deeply held across time and place, often in spite of historic humanitarian crises.

Balla Kouyaté & Famoro Dioubaté

Balla Kouyaté & Famoro Dioubaté

balafon masters
Boston, Massachusetts, and New York, New York

Two masters of the West African balafon, Balla Kouyaté from Mali and Famoro Dioubaté from Guinea, have joined forces to showcase their approaches, both deeply traditional and yet modern and inventive, to this ancient instrument. Each performance from Kouyaté and Dioubaté is a treat for audiences and artists alike, full of the thrill of the unexpected, as these two artists at the peak of their powers explore new musical terrain together.

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet

BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet

Cajun
Lafayette, Louisiana

BeauSoleil is rightly called “the best Cajun band in the world.” The band reflects the vision of Michael Doucet, who has spent much of his life delving into the origins of Cajun music. Michael once said, “If I was going to play Cajun music, I wanted to play it right. And if I was going to change Cajun music, I had to be sure of the direction.” For nearly half a century, BeauSoleil has built a foundation deeply rooted in tradition while pushing the limits of the genre.

Bombino

Bombino

Tuareg guitar
Agadez, Niger

Tuareg guitar has exploded across the international cultural landscape in the less than two decades since the pyrotechnics of these machine gun-toting guitar slingers first captured the imagination of music fans worldwide. Proclaimed variously as “the Sultan of Shred” (New York Times), the “World’s Best Guitarist” (Noisey), and “utterly, utterly fantastic” (BBC World Service), the Niger-born guitarist Bombino is arguably the leading exponent of this rhythmic, trance-like, and sonically captivating sound.

CASYM Steel Orchestra

CASYM Steel Orchestra

steel pan orchestra
New York, New York

CASYM is a thunderous orchestra consisting entirely of steel pans—percussion instruments fashioned from 55-gallon oil drums and played with rubber-tipped mallets. The virtuosity of its members and the versatility of its repertoire demonstrates this instrument’s incredible range. Annual participants in the New York Caribbean Carnival, CASYM is not just a musical group but also an organization that uses music to inspire youth of Caribbean heritage to imagine a brighter future.

Conjunto Guantanamo

Conjunto Guantanamo

Afro-Cuban
New York, New York

Cuban musicians draw from a sonic landscape rich with varied influences, including folk and popular, religious and secular, and Spanish and African-derived sounds. New York City’s Conjunto Guantanamo weaves these diverse threads together. Mingling traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms, like son montuno, cha-cha-cha, mambo, and rumba, with the energy of New York City’s Latin music scene, Conjunto Guantanamo celebrates Cuban folklore as the spirit breathing life into its sound.

Dale Watson

Dale Watson

honky-tonk and country
Austin, Texas

From the heart of Texas comes Dale Watson, a true son of the American musical outlaw tradition and the reigning “king” of uncompromising, deep country—a real honky-tonk hero who lives the life and writes songs about it. Dale proves night after night in big clubs and smoky honky-tonks that he is a true keeper of the country music flame. With his uncompromising approach, this troubadour creates new music in a defiantly American honky-tonk and country roots style, and his soulful songs, delivered with his signature baritone vocals, have a timeless quality that appeals to purists and neophytes alike.

Huun-Huur-Tu

Huun-Huur-Tu

Tuvan throat-singing
Republic of Tuva (Russian Federation)

One of the world’s oldest and most striking vocal traditions is xöömei (throat-singing), from the Republic of Tuva in Central Asia. Nothing in western vocal music resembles this ethereal and beautiful sound. Largely unknown beyond Tuva until the 1990s, Tuvan throat-singing expanded western conceptions of the capacities of the human voice, and quickly became a international sensation. The four-member ensemble Huun-Huur-Tu played a central role in bringing this tradition out of Asia and to stages worldwide.

The Garifuna Collective

The Garifuna Collective

Garifuna
Dangriga, Belize

Described by BBC Music as “full of surging seaside rhythms and yearning, soulful melodies that hang in the memory,” the music of the Garifuna Collective is both undeniably danceable and profound. Their music reflects the history of the Garifuna people, a culturally threatened African Amerindian ethnic minority living primarily along the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. It speaks to universal human emotions through the unique valence of their resilient community and the story of their prolonged and forced migration from Africa to the shores of present-day Central America.

Iberi Choir

Iberi Choir

Georgian polyphonic singing
Tbilisi, Georgia

Cultural life in the country of Georgia revolves around an epic meal known as a supra. Food and wine flow all night, and between every course a traditional song is sung: work songs, carols, hymns, love songs, and historical ballads. The Georgian male choir Iberi showcases the wide range of Georgian music with complex harmonies that are at once eerie, hypnotic, and beautiful. In the hands of this sublime ensemble, this once-threatened Georgian tradition not only seems secure; it seems bound to ascend toward a brighter future.

Julie Fowlis

Julie Fowlis

traditional Scottish song, pipes, and whistles
North Uist, Scotland  

Scottish singer and piper Julie Fowlis has been called “the new face of Gaelic song.” For all her undeniable star power, this singer with an otherworldly voice is known for not only singing in Scots Gaelic but also for her commitment to keeping this endangered language alive. Beloved for her ability to speak directly to the audience, whatever their language, Fowlis creates what The Times of London has described as “a masterclass in intimacy” in her haunting Scots Gaelic.

Kevin Doyle & Friends

Kevin Doyle & Friends

Irish step dance and music
Barrington, Rhode Island

With more than five decades of Irish step dance under his feet, Rhode Island-born Kevin Doyle will delight Richmond audiences with a dazzling display of nimble footwork. He will be joined by an all-star group of friends—and all dedicated educators, like Kevin—from the thriving Irish music scene clustered along the Eastern Seaboard: from New England, flutist and singer Shannon Heaton and button accordion and concertina player Chris “Junior” Stevens; from New York City, fiddler Rose Conway Flanagan; and from Baltimore, pianist Donna Long.

Lonesome River Band

Lonesome River Band

bluegrass
Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee

From the mid-’70s through early ’90s, bluegrass experienced a musical evolution. The high lonesome mountain vocals and deep country sound of first-generation bluegrass bands were augmented by a rock and roll energy and attitude. Bands like J.D. Crowe & the New South, Boone Creek, and, of course, the Lonesome River Band were key in creating this new sound. This year will mark the band’s 37th anniversary. Led by banjo master Sammy Shelor, the Lonesome River Band still plays with the fire and energy that has become their hallmark. It is an enduring legacy.

Mangum & Company

Mangum & Company

gospel brass “shout band”
Charlotte, North Carolina 

Led by soaring trombones with their slides pointed heavenward, Mangum & Company is a group of outstanding musicians representing many of Charlotte, North Carolina’s United House of Prayer congregations. Shout bands are all-brass, gospel-based trombone choirs that represent a sacred musical tradition unique to United House of Prayer churches, and are central to worship services, inspiring congregants with joyous sounds of praise. “Our music feeds the soul,” Cedric Mangum, the band’s leader, says. “It’s designed for the soul, and that’s what draws the people.”

Native Pride Dancers

Native Pride Dancers

powwow dance traditions
St. Paul, Minnesota 

Colorful regalia, resounding drumming, and fancy footwork are part of the rich panoply of experiences at a Native American powwow. The Native Pride Dancers brings this excitement and artistry to audiences across the world, sharing their stories and teaching about the innovative blend of modern and traditional Native American dance styles featured in their performances.   

Panfilo’s Güera

Panfilo’s Güera

Tejano conjunto fiddle
San Antonio, Texas

When Texas Folklife and the Festival of Texas Fiddling honored Belen Escobedo with the 2017 Texas Master Fiddler Award, they praised her for “single handedly keeping alive” the tradition of conjunto fiddle, “a rare and beautiful style of Mexican-American fiddling which has almost disappeared despite once being very widespread in the borderlands.” Today, Belen Escobedo is the foremost practitioner of this fiddle-led art form that expresses the deep roots of Tejano (Texas-Mexican) culture.

Petroloukas Halkias & Vasilis Kostas

Petroloukas Halkias & Vasilis Kostas

traditional music from Epirus
Boston, Massachusetts, and Epirus, Greece

One of the foremost representatives of Greek demotic (folk) music, Petroloukas Halkias is a living legend and master of the clarino (clarinet). At 85 years old, he is a keeper of the musical traditions of Epirus, a region in northwest Greece known for music with strong melodic lines, mournful lyrics, and slow rhythms. Vasilis Kostas, a groundbreaking performer on the laouto (a long-necked, fretted lute with four paired strings), represents the next generation brought up in this tradition. The two met four years ago, sparking a musical partnership that is redefining the typical relationship between clarinet and laouto.

Plunky & the Oneness of Juju

Plunky & the Oneness of Juju

Afro-funk and go-go orchestra
Richmond, Virginia

 For over 50 years, Richmond saxophonist and bandleader J. Plunky Branch has been at the vanguard of Afro-centric jazz, funk, house music, and go-go, weaving these interrelated musical forms into a forward-looking message of empowerment, positivity, and cultural awareness. At this year’s Richmond Folk Festival, he’s launching a new Afro-funk go-go orchestra that revisits his classic mid-1970s Oneness of Juju band while exploring new musical horizons.

Riley Baugus

Riley Baugus

Appalachian songs and ballads
Walkertown, North Carolina

Although it is called “old-time,” the music Riley Baugus plays is, as he says, both old and new, “a living, breathing example of music and tradition that still lives in the mountains near my home.” Growing up in the rural community where he still lives, Baugus was surrounded by music—at home through the records his parents played, and in the community by attending jams at the homes of family friends. A multi-instrumentalist, Riley is renowned for his masterful banjo playing and arresting singing voice.

Saraswathi Ranganathan

Saraswathi Ranganathan

Carnatic veena
Chicago, Illinois

Carnatic music has been the common thread connecting diverse cultural communities in South India for thousands of years. The veena, a 24-fretted lute made with two resonating gourds, is the primary stringed instrument of this classical tradition. In Chicago, the great midwestern metropolis that is literally and figuratively thousands of miles from South India, veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan is winning accolades and fans for her mastery of the instrument.