a kind of manifesto (part 1)
Why this? Why right now?
A year or so ago Red Baraat played the Iron Horse. It was one of only a handful of world-music shows that came through our town that whole year, and it did not disappoint. The place was packed -- on a Wednesday -- and by the end of the night everyone was beaming, drenched in sweat. If you aren’t familiar with Red Baraat, you should be. They’re based in New York and they embody a local sound made global: hard-driving Bhangra, reconfigured with a score of other genre influences into the kind of party that the entire world can dance to.
A few months later, still fondly remembering that night, I saw Red Baraat booked to play in Hartford. A group of us went down to catch the show. This was a larger venue, on a Saturday night, with a much smaller crowd... and the vibe was funereal. There were maybe fifty people tops, and the band (bless their souls) still pushed through their set even once the mood had set like concrete.
Moral of the story? Hartford is the bigger city, but Northampton has more heart. More joyous music-lovers and dancers who are happier listening to Sunny Jain tear into his dohl drum on any given night than to sit at home and binge-watch the inter-webs.
But also. What was I doing down in Hartford on a Saturday? Why wasn’t Red Baraat playing Northampton again? Why was it that my four year old could accurately count (if asked to), the handful of world-music shows that came through town in a year?
Seriously people. Something is wrong here. Its not like we’re a really hip town in Alaska, or something. If world-music basecamps in the major metropolitan cities like New York and Boston – well, then we’re the one-hour hike to the waterfall. Fuck Hartford. Once you get past New Haven, we’re the best game in town.
And Northampton, bless its liberal heart, loves world-music. We’re eager to embrace other cultures; we’re open-hearted and open-minded about the USA being this cosmopolitan wonderland where the immigrant experience is greater than the sum of its parts.
When we go out to eat, we don’t eat American – we eat Mexican, or Indian, or Greek, or Thai. So what about music? That’s soul-food for humans. And everywhere around the world, its been refined and developed in parallel, for just as long as the gastronomy has. World-music then, is instinctually American. It is the magical stuff of culture, like language and art and food, which we try to keep intact even as we assimilate.
So what IS the problem, Northampton? Actually, there is no problem. This past November and again in March, I threw a couple of world-music parties in the first hill-town up the road and sold out both shows without any advertising (or any experience). And I am a music-presenting amateur. Each year, far more experienced independent presenters bring events like Django in June (gypsy jazz), Yidstock (klezmer), and Millpond (everything++) to the Valley with the kind of verve and chutzpah that our community wants and deserves.
It’s just that in the center of our city, the water mains are frozen. Tragically, the most viable venues for live music in Northampton are dried up husks of what they used to be. The music scene when I moved here a decade ago was an embarrassment of riches compared to the present moment. Today, its like a Chernobyl. (unless your jam is strictly folk). And because its privately owned and severely monopolized, we can’t change it so much as boycott it, and plant new seeds around its radioactive perimeter.
///end of rant///
More next week.