By Anna Sorokina, inside editor
Afro-Brazilian samba, wild boar bolognese and temporary tattoos. This, together with other eclectic combinations, transformed the House of Blues into an indoor music festival venue to remind snowy Boston of true summer vibes.
CRASHfest hit the stage on Sunday, Jan. 24 with a mix of global, folk and indie music. World Music/CRASHarts, a nonprofit organization that presents concerts and educational programs in greater Boston, put the act together to promote cultural discovery through music. World Music presented 10 bands from around the globe, ranging from Monsieur Periné, a Colombian band that performs jazz, pop and swing, to Angélique Kidjo, a Beninese-born American Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter.
Besides showcasing a worldly combination of bands, CRASHfest impressed the audience with three different stages, each with its own atmosphere. At 5 p.m., everyone was getting ready for the first act of the night – Zili Misik. At the stage dedicated to Boston acts, which looked like a casual jazz bar, people were grabbing drinks and getting the taste of the night’s specials –– classic paella and roasted prawns with olives.
Zili Misik, named after a Haitian spiritual entity seen as a mother, lover and warrior, has been bridging cultures for 12 years by bringing an individual cultural blend to their sound. Influenced by Haitian mizik rasin (roots music), Jamaican reggae, Afro-Cuban son and African-American genres including spirituals, blues, jazz and neo soul, the group creates diverse music.
When Kera Washington founded the band 16 years ago, the idea she had in mind was to showcase female musicians.
“I didn’t want to hear any more ‘Oh look at that girl on the drums!’ from anyone,” Washington said. “I was tired of this being a phenomenon; I wanted it to be more commonplace,” Washington said.
However, Washington was unable to find enough females to fulfill all the roles in the band and had to recruit some male musicians, forming a band called Zili Roots. Soon, Washington realized the band wasn’t fulfilling its initial goal of proving to the world that females are equally talented at playing musical instruments. According to Washington, she felt like the male band members acted as if they were more knowledgeable than females.
That’s when Zili Roots managed to recruit enough female members and changed its name to Zili Misik. Now, the band performs regularly at colleges, schools, festivals and performing arts venues throughout the country.
While the stage for Boston acts was hosting Zili Misik, other stages were far from silent.
Foundation Room – another stage of CRASHfest – is a cozy space adorned with old rugs, elegant chandeliers, dim lighting, quilted walls and a fireplace. The sound of cello, tenor banjo and guitar filled the room as Leyla McCalla Trio entered the stage.
Leyla McCalla is a Haitian-American performer who sings in French, Haitian Creole and English.
“I studied classical cello for a lot of my life and graduated from NYU [New York University] in 2007 and [realized that] classical music wasn’t going to do it for me,” McCalla said.
While working as a waitress at a bar in New York, she met many musicians who played everything from African music to jazz.
“It just really inspired me seeing all these musicians living in a way that I wasn’t being taught I could live,” McCalla said. “That’s when I started playing in a lot of different bands, learning to play more by ear. I relocated to New Orleans in 2010… with the intention of finding what I really wanted to do with music.”
Born in New York City to Haitian immigrant parents, McCalla experienced a sense of connection with her Haitian heritage after moving to the Crescent City in 2010.
“Cello is used in a lot of music that I call traditional, like Creole and Haitian folk,” McCalla said. “[My] music is largely informed by traditional music that people have been playing for years, for decades, for hundreds of years.”
With her music, McCalla likes to explore what it’s like to be in the singer-songwriter scene as a minority.
“I feel like I have all of these identities, I come from different places,” McCalla said.
One of the event’s headliners, Kishi Bashi took the main stage at 8 p.m. His music immediately filled the venue, provoking excited cheers in the audience.
Kishi Bashi is the stage name and a self-produced project of Kaoru Ishibashi, a singer-songwriter violinist known for his work with the electro-pop group Jupiter One and the indie band Of Montreal.
“[Violin is a way to] stand out in the sea of songwriting,” Ishibashi said.
When he played music with Of Montreal, it was Kevin Barnes, the band’s lead singer, who gave Ishibashi confidence in his music.
“He wanted the crazy sounds I was getting out of the violin,” Ishibashi said.
Yet another addition to the cultural aspect of CRASHfest, Ishibashi believes that when he sings in Japanese, it adds an extra dimension to the lyrics, which he used a musical tool.
However, Ishibashi is not planning on sticking with his current music style forever. According to Ishibashi, it is his dream to collaborate with orchestras as well as to branch out into a completely different genre: Electronic Dance Music (EDM).
“[EDM] is a sensory experience,” Ishibashi said.
With seven other culturally diverse bands performing at CRASHfest throughout the night, the audience members learned about different styles and genres of music they rarely hear on the radio.
Pnakamani Pega, an audience member, commented on CRASHfest’s goal to promote cultural discovery.
“Being aggressive fails to educate so we need to do it from the point of love – through music,” Pega said.
Photo by Anna Sorokina