Why Does the Calgary Arts Centre Do World Music?

by Carey Rutherford

Jennifer Johnson, Director of Programming for the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts, and the main organizer of their World Music Series, is a philosopher. Her exact words are: “Why does the Arts Centre do world music?

Is she a poet? Is she a musician? Is she a woman with a passion for pushing the envelope? Yup.

“Calgary has really changed over the last 10 years. I truly believe that a big part of living harmoniously together is a basic understanding of each other and our cultures. Understanding builds tolerance and acceptance.. . . Music transcends language and where you come from. You can get a sense of a culture and their storytelling without knowing the language.”

Okay, we ARE talking about Calgary, here. You know, the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth? Not Mardi Gras or the Winter Carnival. Just because we’ve got a new mayor doesn’t make us Montreal.

Johnson opines that “although we’ve got well over 1 million people, and maybe 800-1000 people will come to the World Music show at the concert hall, I think we’re all proud to live in a city that CAN present these things. . . . I think it becomes a nice place to live where we have a cultural diversity and (these) things going on.”

Courtesy of the artist.

Case in point: Kiran Ahluwalia and Rhythm of Rajasthan, who are performing this Saturday night in the Jack Singer Hall. “Take an extraordinarily talented musician like Kiran who is doing the mash-up in the world music scene (her new album has African-desert band Tinariwen); it’s getting incredible reviews. . . . She’s pushing the limits of what traditional Indian music, and putting her own twist on it.”

“And the neat thing is the show is paired with Rhythm of Rajesthan, which is AS traditional as it can get.”

The Epcor Centre’s website attempts to be more detached about Paco Peña than their enthusiastic Director of Programming. It calmly shares a quote in which ‘the New York Times declared “Mr Peña is a virtuoso, capable of dazzling an audience beyond the frets of mortal man. He combines rapid-fire flourishes with a colourist’s sense of shading; this listener cannot recall hearing any guitarist with a more assured mastery of his instrument.”’

Hmm. So much for detachment.

Following Mr. Peña’s show on March 8th, Acoustic Africa blows into town on March 30th. As Ms. Johnson says “they’re all African guitarists who have independent careers, so you’ll have some old-school music, with a little bit of blues and a little bit of rock ‘n roll combined, so you’ll see the synergy of how it all works together.” From Africa to America. A direct line on stringed instruments.

And on April 21st, the Johnny Clegg Band rounds out the season, reminding us where the concept of ‘world music’ or ‘world beat’ came from. 30 years on, Johnny Clegg has been mixing South African traditions and more contemporary musics together since before we had a proper glossary for what the heck he was up to. Ms. Johnson suggests “a lot of us just might have his music in our subconscious.” Remember Paul Simon working with Ladysmith Black Mambazo? “Johnny Clegg would be the premiere South African artist of that time: there’s that Zulu sound, that beat in his music.”

You know, she really likes this stuff.