OneBeat 2012, the inaugural year of OneBeat, brought together 32 musicians from 21 countries together for a month-long residency and tour. This incredible group of musicians came to the U.S. to collaboratively write, produce, and perform original music, and develop ways that music can make a positive impact on our local and global communities. OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation.
The details of this memorable journey from the Atlantic Center for the Arts to New York city were written during OneBeat by Adriel Luis, poet, designer, and musician who served as OneBeat media director in 2012.
The Residency Kicks Off
September 12, 2012. Somewhere deep in Florida’s wetlands, you’ll hear a sound that’s not quite critter, bug, or beast. It’s not the sound of wind through trees or the crashing of waves at the nearby beach. Yet, it’s unmistakably natural. In fact, it just might soundtrack the purpose of life on this planet.
Okay, maybe that was a bit too epic. So let’s just say the facts.
There are over 40 musicians gathered here.
They hail from 21 different countries.
And they’re all dope.
Today marked the official start of OneBeat, but over the past few days we’ve tirelessly shuttled musicians from throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Americas between the Orlando airport and the Atlantic Center for the Arts where we’ll be spending our first two weeks.
Some of the early-arrivers included PPS – an emcee from Senegal, and Kato Change – a guitarist from Kenya. They made acquaintance at breakfast, went into our library studio at lunch, and had two tracks cut by dinner.
When you gather people from across the globe for the first time and mix in the passion of an artist – it doesn’t matter how many agendas your print out, emergency contact sheets you fill in, or flight statuses you check – it’s inevitable chaos. OneBeat’s job is to turn that chaos into jazz… and rock, and hip hop, and Korean Pansori, for that matter.
September 14, 2012. It’s easy to get excited at a jam session. Musicians bang on their tools with no blueprint, each competing to impress. It’s a wonderful spectacle. But when you converge with this many instruments, this many traditions, and this many visions for sound, there’s a thin line between a symphony and a trainwreck. And despite some assumptions about this mix, we’re not going for Pier One Imports music here.
The challenge of OneBeat is to demonstrate that we’re not here just to import “exotic sounds” or pull together clashing sounds for the sake of a sonic melting pot. Rather, we’re on a steady path to illustrate that music – like politics, economies, and beliefs – can excel with confronted by their distinctions.
And of course, with an ensemble comprised of such distinct voices, how can we ensure that no one is marginalized, tokenized, or compromised?
A Beautiful Ruckus
September 20, 2012. Today was all about the ruckus. Careful avoidance of thinking. In the afternoon a bunch of fellows hopped a van to the local Walmart for a flash mob-stylee stomp session choreographed by Usman. But someone leaked it on Facebook so by the time we arrived there was already a crowd waiting for it to happen. Alas, more mob than flash. But still… international artists all converging to put on a quick show for folks who were just around to pick up some toilet paper and dog food? You don’t find bargains like that everyday!
Bringing Down the House
September 27, 2012. Throughout the past couple of weeks with these artists, we’ve been knocked off our feet countless times over. But there’s a difference between a rehearsal and a real show. And as much practice as you try to get in, as real as you try to make the dress rehearsal, nothing compares to the energy exchanged between artist and audience when the spotlight’s on and the sound system’s bumping. Tonight, we saw some stars shine.
Inside this tour bus is a wide range of experiences. There are those who are like Chance, homegrown in the Appalachians and who has stomped enough U.S. ground to have an opinion about each nook we land in. There are also those who are like Sayak, who had never boarded an airplane until last month. Within this group of forty-or-so, there is no standard bearer. There is no normal – just a perpetual series of first experiences cascading into each other into this thing we’ve decided to call OneBeat. As we wind up the East Coast, we witness the nuances in the ways that we order our food, cope with nervousness, and feel out new cities. Today, we migrated up to North Carolina.
After playing churches, divebars, schools, parks, and museums in Charleston, Asheville was our place to let it all go. In a porch by the lake, surrounded by wooden benches and waterfowl, we jammed deep into the night and filled our bellies with Vietnamese sandwiches.
Taking the Town
September 29, 2012. Roanoke is a sleepy town. From personal experience, I can tell you that meandering downtown for an hour won’t get you a laundromat. It is far from a metropolitan cityscape, but it doesn’t try to be one either. But Saturdays are different.
On the weekends, downtown comes alive with a farmer’s market, pony rides, and artisans selling their spoils to the locals. On this particular weekend, if you made your way past the chicken and waffles spot, you’d hear a curious noise peeking from the alleyway. It was Wael running his fingers along an accordion, with local musicians eagerly huddled around a microphone attached to the OneBeat mobile studio. The accordion isn’t native to Wael’s Tunisia, and neither is the Nord keyboard that’s his typical tool of choice. But today, in this small town, we had the opportunity to show the downtown locals (and later in the evening the audience at Jefferson Center) tastes of our represented countries beyond the usual newspaper headlines.
This weekend was all about waking sleeping giants.