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The Justice (October 12, 2010)

World music to grace Brandeis

by Wei-Huan Chen

Prof. Judith Eissenberg (MUS), the founder and director of MusicUnitesUS, has brought acclaimed musicians from Africa, South America, Europe and Asia to Brandeis since establishing the intercultural musical series in 2003. Eissenberg, who is also a violinist for the Lydian String Quartet, gave justArts an insightful look into the process of organizing Lamine Touré and Group Saloum's stay at Brandeis this week.

JustArts: Tell us about the MusicUnitesUS series. What is the purpose of these residencies?

Judith Eissenberg: Well, the mission statement says: "to further the understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures through music." We had a musician from the Middle East say to the audience once, "You've heard a lot about Iraq in the news lately. How many of you have heard an Iraqi love song?" And then he played one. It's kind of about that.

JA: When did you first hear about Lamine Touré?

JE: It was a few years ago; I think I was introduced to [curator Patricia Tang's] work before I heard Lamine's music. Patty is an ethnomusicologist-she wrote a wonderful book: Masters of the Sabar: Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal. In it, she examines the role of Wolof griots in contemporary Senegalese culture. Lamine was one of the percussionists she interviewed. So, I learned about Lamine through Patty.

JA: How did you organize to bring his group on campus?

JE: I first invited Lamine and Patty to be guests in the Intro to World Music class that I teach in the spring; that's when I found out they are married! We had such a good time in the class; we started talking about doing a residency-bringing Lamine's band, Group Saloum, with Patty as curator. She'll be giving the preconcert talk as well.

JA: What inspired you to incorporate the experiences of Brandeis students by hosting the photo exhibit at Slosberg?

JE: This isn't the first time we've had a spotlight exhibit. Our residency with Hindustani vocalist Shubha Mudgal had a spotlight on India, and we did one on China during another residency. I think of these residencies as journeys, with music as the vehicle; … having a visual element offers another entry-a lens (a digital one in this case) into the exploration. I particularly like seeing these places through our students' eyes. There is a big emphasis on people in these photos, which adds an intimacy to the experience.

JA: What should students expect from the residency and concert next week?

JE: There are 10 classes that are collaborating in the residency, making links to the curricula: Psychology, International Global Studies, [African and Afro-American Studies], Comparative Literature and so on from the so-called academic corners of the campus; and Drawing, Dance, and Global Pop from the arts. Each class will offer opportunities to mine the knowledge this music holds. We are so lucky to have Lamine, a griot (or guewel in Wolof), from a long lineage of oral historians. And the concerts? We can expect virtuosity that comes from discipline and talent, power, fun-not for the faint of heart or hearing and definitely for anyone who would like to experience joy! And by the way, there will be guitar, keyboard, brass, vocals and dance as well in the final concert.

JA: Why is world music relevant?

JE: There's not space here to unpack the term "world music". I rather like Roots magazine's "local music from out there," but even with that, you have to wonder what's local and what's out there anymore. World music-all music is relevant because it is the ebb and flow of human expression; we can learn so much about ourselves, you and me, from the conversation. And musicking is a conversation, one that has been going on for a very, very long time. There are all kinds of knowledge, old and new, embedded in the sounds we shape. We are inspired, consoled, seduced, angered, thrilled, reminded … by the songs that circle the world.

JA: Does Touré's music say anything special about Africa or its culture?

JE: When I think of musical values in West Africa, I think of relationship between each of the parts, layering, texture, call and response. Here, the sabar drum ensemble that forms the core of mbalax, the popular dance music of Senegal, is a prominent element of Group Saloum, which defines itself as an Afro-pop band. I would say that mbalax, which developed in the '70s, was a move away from the more Western influenced popular music in Senegal and part of the back to the roots movement, a reaction against colonialism. On the other hand, you'll hear plenty of jazz, funk, reggae and Afrobeat. What can I say? It's world music!

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