UCLA Spring Festival of World Music Returns to Live Performances

The Spring Festival of World Music is back, and back big. The storied showcase, which dates back to 1960, returns to live performances in Schoenberg Hall May 13-15 and May 20-22. All concerts begin at 7:00 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

“The students are the real heroes here,” said Dr. Diane White-Clayton, director of the African American Music Ensemble. “They are the ones who have been most affected by the trauma of the last few years. They are so excited to be able to finally perform in person after such a long hiatus.”

The festival kicks off on Friday, May 13 with the music of India and China. The Music of India Ensemble features students of Rahul Neuman on the sitar and students of Abhiman Kaushal on the tabla. Students will perform ragas in the North Indian classical tradition. The Music of China Ensemble, directed by Chi Li, will perform texts from arias from Kun opera of the sixteenth century.

The festival continues on Saturday, May 14 with the Music of Bali, Java, and Thailand. The Music of Bali Ensemble, directed by Nyoman Wenten, performs Balinese gamelan music, famous for its fast tempos, abrupt changes of texture, and costumed dancers. The Music of Java Ensemble, directed by Pak Djoko Walujo and Kayle Khanmohamed, will perform with UCLA’s Music of the Venerable Dark Cloud: The Javanese Gamelan.

Coinciding with the three-day symposium “Asian Performing Arts on Stage and Screen,” the concert will feature special guests.

“We will be joined by young musicians from northeast Thailand are currently teaching Thai music and culture at Thai temples in San Francisco and San Diego,” said Supeena Adler, director of the Poonglaang ensemble and adjunct assistant professor of ethnomusicology. Dancers from southern California will perform alongside the musicians.

The Music of Mexico Ensemble will perform on Sunday, May 15. Jesús Guzmán, 2008 Grammy winner, directs the Music of Mexico Ensemble, which explores the many manifestations of mariachi music including son jalisiense, son huasteco, bolero, ranchera and huapango.

The festival’s second weekend features the broad range of UCLA’s ethnomusicology department’s acclaimed music ensembles. On Friday, May 20, the Music of Turkey Ensemble showcases the art music, fasil, folk, and other genres found in Turkey and its periphery. On Saturday, May 21, the Persian Music Ensemble and Old Time String Band showcase traditional music from their respective regions. And on Sunday, May 22, the Klezmer Music Ensemble and the African American Music Ensemble will perform.  

“We’re often referred to as the gospel music choir,” said White-Clayton, who is known as Dr. Dee by her students. “But we perform the full range of African American sacred choral music.” The ensemble’s performance will include traditional and contemporary gospel music as well as hymns, anthems, and various renditions of spirituals from classical arrangements to modified versions known as freedom songs that were used in civil rights marches in the 1950s and 60s.

One such freedom song, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Roun’,” will be performed at the concert with new lyrics written by Dr. Dee. Each verse will end with the refrain, “March into my destiny,” rather than the traditional song’s refrain of marching into freedom.

“I’ve encouraged my students to own those words as a proclamation of their resilience after having endured the past few years,” White-Clayton explained. “With such extreme loss, social and political unrest, and the psychological and emotional hardships of having to learn and even sing in isolation, these students represent our hope for tomorrow.”

The scholar emphasized that African American music is not frozen in time – the messages of yesteryears propel us through the hardships of today.  “We want students to know the history of this music, to remember the people who suffered and died so we can be together, all of us, in one classroom from different cultures singing with one voice,” White-Clayton said.

The entire Spring Festival will be an affirmation of the power of live music and of rich musical styles the world over. White-Clayton believes it is great cause for celebration. “As we sing songs like, ‘I Made It Out Alright’ by John P. Kee or Donald Lawrence’s ‘Jehovah Sabaoth’ which powerfully proclaims, “I’m not afraid!  All is well!’, we hope that the audience is inspired and uplifted by the power of these messages,” she said.

Anita Shire

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