“Not only do we want to present the world to New Mexico,” says Globalquerque co-founder Tom Frouge, “but we want to present New Mexico to the world.” Talking with Tom and his fellow co-founder Neal Copperman, it’s clear these two are doing just what they’ve set out to accomplish.
Now in its 10th year, “New Mexico’s Celebration of World Music and Culture” will again take over the campus of Albuquerque’s National Hispanic Cultural Center September 19 and 20. Imagine immersing yourself in the music, dance, film, art and—lest we forget—food of 11 countries, including Texas. Ever wonder what apipa or a tamburais? Or what they sound like? This is your chance to find out. “The music presented at Globalquerque is from the very traditional to the very cutting edge,” Tom says, “with the common denominator that no matter how contemporary the band is, it has to have an element of their culture.”
The festival kicks off Friday morning with a special program that’s free to school groups, featuring performances from a selection of the bands. “We’ve had as many as 1800 school kids on the plaza,” says Tom. “They’re dancing, doing trains around the place…” This has to be the sweetest of good times, with all that excited kid energy. Friday and Saturday evenings, ticketed music and dance performances take to three stages at the Center simultaneously. (Advance tickets are available at a discounted rate through September 18—see the website for details.) The Global Market will be open if you want to take a break from the music, check out the arts and crafts or have a bite to eat. Throughout the day on Saturday, everything is open and free to the public, with more music, workshops, the Global Market, the whole kit. There’s a lot happening.
Often, it’s not what we say but how we say it. With songs sung in languages from around the world, many of us are bound to miss the stories. But the gesture and the spirit of performances always come through clear as a bell. Celebration, joy, heartache—these qualities are innately human and music is the universal language to express them. “We like to call Globalquerque a festival of discovery,” says Neal, “because usually people find the thing they are most excited about when they leave the festival is not what they were most excited about going into the festival.”
You can get a sneak peek from the website via short videos of the performers in the lineup. I’ve watched a couple and have been briefly transported to China and Hungary, discovering strikingly new qualities in the music. The music of Liu Fang from China is haunting, full of longing and quite moving. Söndörgő, a five guy tamburitza band from Hungary, gave me a whole new take on folksong themes. I have no idea what they were singing about, but can picture a Saturday night gathering in a small Balkan village, people dancing a step perhaps much like a contra dance and having some fun as we all love to do. All this from two short clips.
Having our minds and hearts opened to something new is the best. This is the nugget for Neal. “When we bring a band from Pakistan that’s fronted by two women,” he says, “not only is that confronting the sort of male-centric perspective you might assume would come from Pakistan, but we’re also putting forward culture from a people who are sort of vilified [here] on television.” People visiting Globalquerque are “seeing them in a new and different light,” he says. “They appear more human. It’s like, ‘Wow, they have pretty music! Their music talks to me, and I got to speak to those people and they’re really nice.’ And all of a sudden people’s views of Pakistan or the Pakistani people change.” Hats off to Neal and Tom for bringing this to us. “With music,” says Neal, “you find all these connections.”
You start getting the picture as to how this all came about by reading Tom’s bio: “He began his music career one Sunday night in 1964 watching the Ed Sullivan show.” As a kid in Connecticut, he was mesmerized by “the lads from Liverpool” who, unbeknownst to them, opened Tom’s eyes to culture outside his home turf. “I swear, the next day I started fighting with my mother about growing my bangs out,” he says, and we share a laugh. I remember similar arguments with my folks. “It was a cultural shift that really put me on the path,” Tom says. Over the years, he worked for perhaps a dozen record labels before starting his own artist management company, Avokado Artists.
Meanwhile, in the Washington D.C. area, Neal was getting into a diverse and lively music scene. He “always loved music, was always wrapped in the latest sounds and quirks and fashions,” he says. “It was the excitement. It’s always been a fascination of mine … I could see just about anyone I could imagine.” His work in math and computer science brought him to Albuquerque. “It was a more quiet scene here,” he says, “but there was an openness to it I couldn’t find on the coasts.” Neal started getting involved. “The Outpost Performance Space, for example. I’d just go up to the people that ran it and say, ‘I love what you’re doing here, can I help?’ And people were responsive. So the openness of the community here was really exciting. I was able to get involved in things I was passionate about that I’d only been able to experience as an observer. I started volunteering.”
Neal continues, “I had engaged in something that changed the community I lived in. I was thrilled. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m actually making a difference in the town I live in,’ and that was a really beautiful thing.” When faced with a turning point in his work life, he decided to not return to the East Coast and said farewell to working in the sciences. He stayed in Albuquerque and created his own business, AMP Concerts. Right on Neal!
In 2005, Tom went to the music festival globalFEST in New York City and the concept of bringing shows together from around the world really clicked with him. Tom recalls a decisive moment. “A friend turns to me and asks, ‘What do you think about doing a globalFEST West?’ And I said, ‘That is brilliant! What do you think if I do this in New Mexico instead of L.A.?’ And she says, ‘I think that’s brilliant!’”
Tom and Neal’s paths had already intersected a few times, so they got together on the idea. “I’ve always been a huge fan of world music,” says Neal, “so Tom and I had a base right there. International music is always a little bit of a fringe.” They gathered the support of then Mayor Marty Chavez, and soon after the Center signed on as the venue. “This was January 2005 and the first Globalquerque was in September of that year,” says Tom.
“The acts we bring in are all world-class touring bands. We have had a number of award-winners, including many Grammy winners, grace our stages over the years.” They market the festival nationally and internationally, putting Albuquerque on the world-wide, music scene map. “We also are fortunate,” says Tom, “to be at a world-class facility like the National Hispanic Cultural Center, whose people from the top down are the best,” and there couldn’t be a more perfect setting. With this festival, as Tom points out, it’s more than the music. “From the ambiance, to the sound, to the “extras” like the Global Village of Craft, Culture & Cuisine,” they put their hearts into it. Tom adds, enthusiastically, “Festival goers can be confident they will have a top-quality musical and cultural experience. It’s the whole experience …”
For more information, visit globalquerque.org.
Story by Gordon Bunker
Photo credit: Pascal Perich, Postales