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On the Town

Sacred Music of the Faithful

World festival encompasses varied traditions of religious sounds for two weeks around L.A.

September 12, 2002|Robert Hilburn; Lynell George; Susan Brenneman; Mark Swed; Don Heckman; Lewis Segal

It was Duke Ellington who said, "You can jive with secular music, but you can't jive with the almighty," and it's this knowing deference to the divine that characterizes the joyful array of sounds in the second World Festival of Sacred Music, sprawling over 16 days from Sept. 14 through Sept. 29 in venues across Los Angeles.

The first L.A.-based festival took place in 1999 in response to a call from the Dalai Lama of Tibet, who recognized that just as religious zeal has the power to divide communities through bloody fundamentalist conflict, it also has the power to unite them through mutually respected traditions of worship. Festivals are now envisioned every third year.

This year's incarnation has expanded to the extent of asking: What is the sacred? Is it prayer to a deity beyond? Is it touching the god within? Is it tradition and ritual? Or simply pure beauty?

With more than 200 different acts at 55 events at scores of locations across the region, the festival is a fascinating experiment in touching a spiritual chord common to many Angelenos. What follows are the performances that most intrigued a panel of The Times' music and dance writers.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 13, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 6 inches; 230 words Type of Material: Correction
Requiem chorus--The chorus for the Los Angeles Philharmonic performance of Mozart's Requiem on Sept. 27 at Our Lady of the Angels was incorrectly listed as the Los Angeles Master Chorale in a selection of festival highlights in Thursday's Calendar Weekend. A choir of singers from Catholic parishes around Los Angeles will be used.

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Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan: It was Rahat's uncle, the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, who opened U.S. pop ears in the '90s to the passionate Pakistani vocal style known as qawwali, thanks largely to a series of concerts in which he offered the most compelling mix of charisma and passion of any world music figure since reggae king Bob Marley. Qawwali is the devotional music of Sufi Muslims, but its spirit, like American gospel music, is so rich with purity and conviction that it easily crosses language and other boundaries. Rahat continues the tradition with a deep passion and dedication that is gloriously liberating. (Saturday)

Robert Hilburn

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Voyage of the Black Madonna, Sacred Music of Italy with Alessandra Belloni and the Our Lady of Lourdes Choir: Singer, dancer and tambourine virtuoso Alessandra Belloni weaves together an aural tapestry referencing the cycles of life, women and nature. Backed by East L.A.'s Our Lady of Lourdes Choir, Belloni will drum as well as perform a selection of chants from Mexico, Brazil, Portugal, Spain and France, to one of the most sacred icons of the Catholic Church: the Black Madonna, said to offer both physical and spiritual healing powers. Belloni, one of the most famous and revered voices in Southern Italian music and dance today, has designed a signature series of tambourines, some of which she will utilize during an evening that begins and concludes with a candlelight procession honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe. (Sept. 20)

Lynell George

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Nels Cline/Gregg Bendian, "Interstellar Space Revisited": Recorded just months before his death in 1967, John Coltrane's "Interstellar Space" became the tenor saxophonist's grand, parting glance. The Impulse! recording, a sinuous, bracing paring with drummer Ali Rashied, again challenged the definitions and borders of jazz. Screeching solos, octave leaps, Coltrane pressed the expectations of how a saxophone might sound; Rashied reinterpreted the role of percussion--a pulsing torrent of sound. A spiritual quest? A final wail? Coltrane's piece was as grand as it was inscrutable. In 1999 guitarist Nels Cline and drummer Gregg Bendian released their interpretation of the Coltrane classic: "Interstellar Space Revisited." While respectful of the essence of the original, Cline and Bendian build their own sonic edifice full of jutting angles and startling drops. The suite will be performed outdoors at the historic Shindler house. (Sept. 20)

Lynell George

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Mare Tranquillitatis: Performance and visual artist Hirokazu Kosaka will open a window on a multitude of traditions during his harvest celebration staged outside in downtown L.A. The event welcomes the Japanese gods of the sun and moon with bonfires and gives a nod to U.S. history (Mare Tranquillitatis, Latin for Sea of Tranquillity, refers to the crater on the moon where astronauts first set foot). The staging will incorporate references to Noh theater, and the performers will include a Zen archer, an er hu player (that's a Chinese stringed instrument), a gagaku ensemble (playing traditional Japanese court music), and troupes of Hawaiian and Buddhist chanters. (Sept. 21)

Susan Brenneman

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The Art of Drumming: There's something both haunting and mysterious about the freedom and fervor of sacred drumming that can be as transporting as anything you'll hear on a stage. The lure Sept. 21 is Najite and a drum corps that connects West African and Afro-Cuban rhythms. To make it all more enticing, the Afro-Cuban dance ensemble Umbalaiye will also perform. The Sept. 22 fare, too, is enticing with master drummers and bands including Poncho Sanchez, Francis Awe and the Nigerian Talking Drum Ensemble scheduled to help lift your burdens. (Sept. 21-22)

Robert Hilburn

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