Not many people know that I grew up in the United States, largely because not many people ask. If they did, I’d tell them about a picturesque corner of Maryland, all lemonade stands, brunches, yard sales and little league baseball, sort of Desperate Housewives without the deep frustration, violence and barely concealed sexual mischief. At least as far as ten year old me could see.
At any rate, I love it there – if there’s a country more packed with generous, hospitable, visionary, fiercely independent, passionate people then I haven’t found it. So I’m all kinds of excited to be taking a break from London in New York for January, doing various things which I’ll be writing about here.
On the 11th of January, it was my privilege to play yang qin, piano, ukulele and jews harp to a jam packed, sold out Webster Hall with English folk singer Sam Lee. We had been invited by globalFEST, an annual, one day world music festival which NPR summed up nicely as “one unforgettable night of rapturous dancing, musical meditation and kinship”. Five minutes before we were due to play, the hall was split apart by an avalanche of deafening static roaring out of every speaker in the house. Ten excruciating seconds later some panic button was struck and the wall of sound was replaced by an eery silence: our sound system was down.
Huge numbers of very serious people with head-mics, multi-tools and steel toe-caps came speed-walking out of every door and converged on the sound desk, plugging things in, pulling things out and generally creating reparative mayhem. We, meanwhile, were very rapidly discussing how we could perform unplugged – delicate, intricate, quiet parts were dropped and new, brasher, louder parts devised, and Sam steeled himself to belt to the three hundred eager New Yorkers waiting expectantly in the audience. With thirty seconds until showtime our brilliant tech team worked their miracle, the speakers buzzed back into life and we rode the adrenaline and relief right through a stonking set.
After our show it was time to explore what else was on offer. Right after you’re finished here, do yourself a favour and check out the ecstatic Sufi stylings of Riyaaz, Just A Band, a Nairobi rap group with crazy range, everything from Chance the Rapper jazzy chill to T-Pain-esque dance tracks, Emil Zrihan, who sings North African and Arabic traditional music with the most powerful, expressive voice I’ve heard in ages and Brazilian afrobeat masters Bixiga.