Uptight climate stresses ‘world music’

Red tape, hesitancy are obstacles for artists

After years of developing U.S. audiences for international acts performing indigenous music, the “world music” marketplace is becoming a significant roll of the dice.

For starters, bureaucratic hurdles are appearing at every step, especially new U.S. visa regulations and practices. Expenses, too, continue to pile up and cash-strapped promoters and record labels are reluctant to pony up upfront money to get an act into the U.S.

Then there’s a rampant cautiousness throughout the creative community.

At their annual confab in New York, however, the Assn. of Performing Arts Presenters got a taste of the sorts of acts vying for American attention. Featured at the dozen-act GlobalFest that filled the Public Theater’s stages were established up-and-comers Mariza, Angelique Kidjo and Tania Libertad, as well as the lesser-known South African troubadour Vusi Mahlasela and Brazil’s Forro in the Dark.

“The publicity with something like GlobalFest lets potential corporate sponsors or foundations know we’re out there,” says Marguerite Harburg, booker at Hothouse, a Chicago performance space founded in 1987.

Bringing foreign acts to the U.S. has become a complicated business since Sept. 11. A number of performers, such as Yossou N’Dour and Caetano Veloso, have canceled entire tours. Others have objected to the possible treatment they’ll be subjected to when attempting to travel.

“Some artists are no longer interested in coming here; they don’t want to be fingerprinted and scanned on their way into the country,” says Scott Southard, founder of Intl. Music Network, a Boston-based booking agency founded in 1991, whose revenue is 50% since 9/11.

And still others have sallied forth. Cesaria Evora, the esteemed singer from the African island of Cape Verde, for example, recently performed at L.A.’s new Disney Concert Hall without her violinist. Born in Cuba, he wasn’t allowed into the States.

Those who chose to come to the U.S., in the future may need to play to smaller auds consisting mostly of immigrants rather than the curious Anglo NPR crowd that fills 2,000-seat halls for these acts, and has helped drive such world music superstars as Cuba’s Buena Vista Social Club, Nigeria’s King Sunny Ade, South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Pakistani Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Farka Toure from Timbuktu.

“It’s important to promote and produce within communities that may not permeate the mainstream,” says Ethel Raim, artistic director of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance in New York. “Then we gradually introduce things to (the mainstream).”

Dmitri Vietze of Rock Paper Scissors Booking and the organizer of GlobalFestpoints to the wildly differing musical styles that have been lumped under the header of “world music,” and says the generalities need to stop.

“We need to establish individual identities for artists, rather than rely on the ‘world music’ cloak for the long term,” Vietze says.

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