THIS SUNDAY: Gospel Meets Côte d’Ivoire

On Sunday, July 24 at 1:00 PM, Ivory Coast dancer and drummer Vado Diomande (also a Flushing Town Hall teaching artist) will bring his immense catalog of over 60 African dancing and drumming traditions to the stage. He will be joined by Gospel singer Joshua Nelson for a special collaboration in this “Gospel Meets Côte d’Ivoire” concert. We sat down with Vado to learn more about his artistic journey and his upcoming performance.

You have performed at Flushing Town Hall before. What do you like about performing at this venue?

I enjoy performing and having a full audience in this beautiful theater. I also enjoy being up high above the audience. This venue has a wonderful feeling, and gives us performers a great space to dance and perform.

You have learned over 60 ethnic dance and drumming traditions from the Ivory Coast and across West Africa. How have you put your own, modern spin on these traditional styles of dance and drumming?

I do not change any of the steps or put a different spin on them. I want to preserve the dance steps the way they are danced in the villages. The modern part is that we take our village traditions and customs and adapt them to a staged setting, with bright costumes and rehearsed sequences in order to electrify audiences with our passion, energy, and joy. I present the dance steps the same way all the time, I just change the patterns on the stage. That’s it. My mission is to show the dances in their most authentic form.

Your dance company in New York is called the Kotchegna Dance Company. ‘Kotchegna’ means “messenger” in your native language Mahou. What is the message that you hope for viewers to get when they see you perform?

The message I wish to share with my dance company is that the culture of the Ivory Coast is beautiful, exciting, and very diverse. I want everyone to enjoy watching it, dancing it, learning it, sharing it, and appreciating it.

What do you have on the horizon?

My plans for the future are to lead a group of visitors to Côte d’Ivoire in 2023. It will be a mix of dance and drum students and people interested in Ivorian culture. We will take dance and drum classes, tour the country, and visit my home village of Toufinga. It will be a very exciting two weeks. Join us!

Join Vado Diomande and Joshua Nelson on Sunday, July 24th at 1:00PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE for $15/$12 Members.

Get Excited for kombilesa Mí!

Join us on Saturday, July 23 for a special performance from Kombilesa Mí, appearing at Flushing Town Hall by way of San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, and discover the sounds of Rap Folklórico Palenquero!

Get your tickets here.

Meet 15-Year Old Jazz Jam ALl-StAr Ezra Kessler

On Saturday, July 16th at 7:30 PM, Flushing Town Hall will host its second Annual Louis Armstrong Legacy Jazz Jam All-Stars Concert. This celebratory event will honor ten selected musicians—from amateurs to professionals. Meet the youngest All-Star honoree this year: 15-year-old Ezra Kessler.

When did you first become interested in drumming? How did you get started?

I started drums when I was in 4th grade (9 years old) and was introduced to the drumset when the John Lennon Tour Bus came to my elementary school and let us try out all of the instruments. I was instantly drawn to the drums (after trying out piano and violin in 2nd and 3rd grade).

How do you juggle school and drumming?

I go to a performing arts High School (LaGuardia), so we have 3-4 music classes every day and a rigorous academic curriculum. It’s not always easy to balance the two, and schoolwork has to always come first.

Which musician do you admire the most? Is there anyone you’d like to highlight who you were excited to play with?

I have always loved Eric Lemon’s bass lines and locking in with him in the rhythm section. 

When and how did you get involved with Flushing Town Hall’s Monthly Louis Armstrong Jazz Jam and how has the jam helped you hone your skills?

I can’t remember how I first found out about Flushing Town Hall’s Jazz Jam. I was only 11 years old when I started at the jam, and playing jazz has helped all facets of my playing. Playing the jazz jam has helped me learn that my job as a drummer is to support all the musicians and not always showcase myself.

What’s on the horizon for you? Do you have any special (performing) plans for summer? Please tell us where people can learn more about you.

I will be going to Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Academy at Bard College for two weeks. You can check out my instagram @ezdrumsnyc to learn all about my upcoming events.  

What advice would you give a young person who wants to become a drummer or musician in general?

I would advise them to start early and have fun. Do it only if you love it. It shouldn’t feel like a chore or work. I think I will be playing drums for the rest of my life and will hopefully always push myself to get better and learn new things.

Join Ezra along with the other nine talented All-Stars and our wonderful house band on Saturday, July 16th at 7:30PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE.
$25/$20 Members/$15 Students.

LATIN GRAMMY-nominATED Sonia de los Santos welcomes families at Flushing Town Hall

On Friday, June 24 at 4:00 PM and 7:15 PM, the Latin GRAMMY-nominated Sonia de los Santos brings her bilingual songs to Flushing Town Hall, ready to make children and families smile with uplifting messages and a focus on cultural and community pride. We sat down with Sonia to learn more about her and her music.

Meet Sonia de los Santos

Photo by Hyphen Photography

You grew up in Mexico and later moved to New York. Tell us a little bit about your personal journey.

Yes, I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. I grew up singing at home with my family, and from a very young age it was clear that I was probably going to choose to make music for the rest of my life. I moved to New York City in 2005 following a hunch and a dream… at the time, I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, but I knew I had to be here.

When did you get your start in music, and how has your music evolved throughout your journey?

My mother loves to sing and I remember singing with her when I was around 4 or 5. There was always music at home and I eventually asked for singing lessons in high school as I participated in musical theater shows all through college. I was in a couple of bands during that time, too. I moved to NYC after graduating from college, and here is where I fell in love performing for children and families as I started touring with Dan Zanes and Friends in 2007. Later on, I decided to build a project of my own where I would delve into the Latin American music folk traditions, and started writing songs for it!

Cultivating cultural understanding from a young age is so important, and music is a great way to bring cultures together. What do you want young audiences to learn from your music? Do your songs contain specific messages you want to share with families?

Definitely, I think about this a lot. We are passionate about making music for children and their families with uplifting messages of inclusion and cultural bridge-building because we realize that we are in a very special place where, through our music, we can teach children about tolerance and the importance of solidarity with our neighbors in Spanish and in English.

Queens is one of the most diverse boroughs on the planet and we are expecting audiences from many different cultural backgrounds. Why do you think your music is especially important to the families in Queens? What can they expect from your performance at Flushing Town Hall?

I love Queens! It is such an incredible place where so many people from different parts of the world coexist. I know there are communities of many Latin American countries in Queens, and I hope some of our songs and messages resonate with them. At the end of the day, music is music, and it doesn’t matter which language we are singing in, the feelings that music can evoke are universal and there’s a lot of common ground to be found there. Folks can expect to sing-along in Spanish and English, dance in and out of their seats, and learn about some musical instruments and rhythms from Latin America!

During the pandemic, you launched a new online musical series and debuted a new radio segment Sirius XM’s Kids Place Live. Tell us a little more about your recent projects. Where can families tune in?

Yes, we have been creating more new music and content in the last years. I love to stay connected with families, and during the time when we couldn’t go out and play shows in person, I created a web series called En Casa con Sonia that can be watched in my YouTube channel. We also put out a new album last year called Esperanza (Hope). Our music can be found on our website: soniadelossantos.com and wherever music is streamed too.

What is your mission as a musician? What drives you?

My mission as a performer and creator is to keep finding ways to make my art a vehicle for people to connect to their cultural roots and be proud of who they are. My hope is that through the messages in my songs; children and families can find a way to talk about, and understand some of the things that affect our communities: like migration, or the concept of building a new home, for example. What drives me? Seeing a sense of pride in a young person when they see themselves represented.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a musician, and especially to someone who is interested in creating cultural children’s music?

Find your own personal voice. We all have unique voices and have so much to offer to the world. Think of what you can share that is particular to you, your story, and your experiences, and find a way to amplify that voice in a way you would like to be heard. 

Join Sonia de los Santos on Friday, June 24th at 4 PM or 7:15 PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $12/$8 Members. 

Antonio Hart Gets All The Buzz

On June 17th, Flushing Town Hall’s Queens Jazz Orchestra will perform under the new leadership of two-time GRAMMY nominee Antonio Hart.

Hart is following in the footsteps of his mentor, the great NEA Jazz Master Jimmy Heath, who co-founded the 17-piece orchestra together with Flushing Town Hall’s jazz producer Clyde Bullard in 2008. Master Heath, who passed in early 2020, personally appointed his protégé as his successor.

In Hart’s debut concert as the new director, the Queens Jazz Orchestra will perform “Bird Flight” Honoring Phil Schaap and The Genius of Charlie Parker, along with some music by Master Heath.

Click here for Hart’s recent interview with WBGO’s Gary Walker and learn more about the musical greats who inspired this Friday’s concert: Phil Schaap, Charlie Parker, and Jimmy Heath.

Join Antonio Hart and the Queens Jazz Orchestra on June 17th at 8 PM at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE ($45/$35 Members/$20 Students). Those unable to attend in person can RSVP here to watch the livestream for free on YouTube. Donations are greatly appreciated.

the traditional sounds of Ireland and Morocco will “mashup” when musicians Cillian Vallely and Samir Langus perform together at Flushing Town Hall

On Sunday, May 15th, Cillian Vallely, the uilleann pipes and low whistle player of the renowned Irish band Lúnasa, will join Moroccan Gnawa master Samir Langus, accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Matt Mancuso, for an exciting performance at Flushing Town Hall. Read on for some great insights Cillian Vallely shared with us about his craft and musical journey.

Meet Cillian Vallely

How did you get your start with music?

My parents are both Irish traditional musicians, and so I learned directly from them. My father is an uilleann piper and my mother is a fiddler. They are teachers also and for over 50 years have taught classes and run a music school in Armagh in the north of Ireland.

You have experienced success with your band and have also ventured out as a solo artist. What is your favorite part about being in a band, and what do you enjoy about playing solo?

 I find playing in a band to be very enjoyable musically and quite low-pressure performance-wise. I enjoy the interaction of players and instruments and the blend of melody and harmony. You also tend to play much bigger gigs and festivals with a band and do gigs that aren’t solely for world/traditional music audiences. Playing solo means small concerts for traditional music audiences where there is no arranging and it’s much more intimate. It’s certainly more pressure individually as there’s no one to collaborate with and lean on. You have to create the program of music yourself, but that also gives you the freedom to play exactly as you want and it can be very rewarding when you do it well. There’s a lot less organizing too!

There are many different forms of bagpipes. What makes the uilleann pipes unique?

Uilleann pipes have been around for over 200 years old but they are quite a sophisticated bagpipe compared to most others. They have 2 full octaves, have most of the semi-tones, and have quite a range of sound and tone, especially compared to the Highland bagpipes. They have one aspect which is totally unique – the regulators – which produce another layer of harmony in addition to the drones which play octaves of the same note. You can actually play 7 notes at the same time, chanter notes along with 3 octaves of the drone, and then play 3 different harmonic notes on the regulators. It’s hard to play all the parts physically but there’s an amazing and very unique sound when you play all the harmonies together, somewhat akin to a church organ. 

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

It’s been a quiet couple of years, but I recently played a concert in Boston with a great Irish fiddler Oisin McAuley and a jazz quartet. This was a debut for this music, and we hope to do it again soon. This summer, I will do a collaboration with The Fidelio Trio, a great classical trio based in London. It involves new music being written by a series of composers for uilleann pipes and classical trios. The traditional band I play with, Lúnasa will go on the road again in the summer for some festivals in Ireland, France, Sweden, and Canada. Recording-wise, I recently recorded with the great Natalie Merchant and in traditional music, I’m trying to finish a recording project that I started a few years ago with a great fiddler from Ireland David Doocey.

Join us for our next Mini-Global Mashup on Sunday, May 15th when Ireland meets Morocco at Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $15/$12 Members. Those unable to attend in person can RSVP here to watch the livestream for free on YouTube. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Acclaimed Steelpan Musician Victor Provost Brings Caribbean Jazz Vibes to NYC

On Saturday, May 21st, steel pannist Victor Provost, who is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading voices on the unique, and often misunderstood, steelpan, will deliver his signature Trinidadian steelpan performance at Flushing Town Hall together with these incredible musicians: Alex Brown (piano), Edward Perez (bass), Eric Doob (drums), and special guest Chico Pinhiero (guitar). Victor Provost shared some great stories with us.

Meet Victor Provost

Photo Credit: Chris Drukker

When and how did you get started in music?

There were always random instruments around my house… a trumpet, a little Casio keyboard, one half of a pair of Tabla, and other percussion instruments. My father played multiple instruments. He taught me how to play easy tunes on the keyboard and I started figuring out others by ear. I started taking formal piano lessons when I was around 8 years old and started playing the pan a couple years later.

What made you select the steelpan as your musical instrument of choice?

It sounds cliché, but I feel like the instrument chose me. I was in the basement office of the St. John School of the Arts – a humble wooden building where St. Johnians could take music, art, dance, and drama lesson. I was practicing on an old upright piano and I heard this incredible sound coming from the main room, so I walked upstairs to check it out and about 25 of my friends from school were there all playing this instrument. They were learning a calypso arrangement of the theme from “Chariots of Fire.” I asked to join on the spot. The name of the group was Steel Unlimited II and we eventually toured the U.S., Denmark, Germany, France, and Switzerland. People that fall in love with this instrument call it the “Pan Jumbie” – a jumbie is a type of spirit in Caribbean folklore. Once that Pan Jumbie holds you, there’s no letting go…

How has growing up on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands influenced your music?

The U.S. Virgin Islands is a musical melting pot. On “pop radio” you could hear soca from Trinidad and Barbados, zouk from Guadeloupe, dancehall and lovers rock out of Jamaica, salsa, hip hop, and American R&B, basically all of the music of the African diaspora at various stops on the radio dial. I was exposed to jazz by the director of Steel Unlimited II – Rudy Wells. Mr. Wells was a pioneer of the steelpan and also a trained musician, educated at Berklee and the University of Miami. I’ll never forget when he started teaching us the intro to Chick Corea’s “Spain” – it was so captivating. My father had an amazing record collection and when I came home talking about “Spain,” he started pulling records out: Chick, Miles, Cannonball, Getz & Gilberto, Hugh Masekela, so many amazing recordings… so I did what I think most people do when they find this music and I started playing along with the records. I also learned “On the Bandstand” from elder musicians on the island. When I was in high school, I played almost every night of the week at local hotel…so I spent lots of time on the instrument.

As I got older, St. John (and the world) started changing very quickly. I’ve spent more time reflecting on themes of colonialism, environmental justice, gentrification, and displacement. In 2017 when the island was obliterated by two category 5 hurricanes, I wrote a suite of music that tackles many of those issues.

You performed with many renowned jazz musicians on one stage, including Wynton Marsalis, Paquito D’Rivera, and so many others. Who has been your biggest musical inspiration?

My father is my biggest musical inspiration – he’s the first person I saw play a musical instrument, and he’s the first person I heard play jazz when he’d every so often play “Mercy Mercy Mercy” on our keyboard.

I have had the tremendous honor playing with many of the musicians I grew up listening to and idolizing, including Paquito D’Rivera and the late Hugh Masekela. Paquito, in particular, co-led a groundbreaking group called the Caribbean Jazz Project that merged the music I was hearing on the radio with what I was hearing on my father’s records. There is a long tradition of cross-communication between American and Caribbean musicians in the context of improvised music, but the interest historically tended to lean heavily toward Latin America. Paquito, along with Dave Samuels, and especially pannist (not pianist) Andy Narell added to that cannon with rhythms from the Francophile and Anglophile Caribbean on those recordings from the mid-90s: Caribbean Jazz Project and Island Stories.

I wore those CDs out as a teenager, and when Paquito called me to sub for Andy Narell, he asked me if I was familiar with the music. I told him I knew the whole book! Working with him for the last several years has been incredibly rewarding.

The Covid-19 pandemic was very challenging for performers. How did you adapt? How did you spend your time while venues were closed across the world?

I wish I could say I was inspired to create a bunch of art drawing on our collective human suffering and anxiety, but that was definitely not the case. This period has been especially contemplative for me for many reasons. First, I have a degree of security through adjunct teaching positions at two institutions: Montgomery College in Maryland and George Mason University, where I’ve built a studio of young pannists from around the U.S. and Caribbean who come to study the instrument with me. 

So as I saw so many of my friends and musical heroes pivot to creating music in online spaces, doing Facebook Live concerts, soliciting tips, and selling tickets on various digital payment platforms, I felt a sense of “survivors guilt” and I made the conscious effort to stay clear of that space, leaving it open for those whose livelihoods depended on it. 

During that same time, the country was (once again) reckoning with the violent mistreatment of Black people by power structures and systems of white supremacy – particularly in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others. As a white man, I took this opportunity to listen and reflect… so my personal artistic output was low, but I welcomed the opportunity to collaborate on some great projects by other artists during this time.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m working on a record with my friend, pianist, and frequent collaborator, Alex Brown. We’ve been piecing it together slowly for the last year or so. It’s going to feature some new compositions and several of our favorite musicians and surprise guests. So look out for an official announcement about that record later this year. 

Venues are slowly starting to reopen their doors, so I have lots of shows scattered around the east coast this summer and fall!

Join us on May 21st when Victor Provost brings some feel-good vibes to Flushing Town Hall. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $15/$12 Members. Those unable to attend in person can RSVP here to watch the livestream for free on YouTube. Donations are greatly appreciated.

A Palo Seco Brings fLamenco to Queens

On Saturday, May 14, 2022, the popular ensemble A Palo Seco will take the stage at Flushing Town Hall with a family-friendly flamenco production full of vibrant dance, live music, and emotion. The afternoon event begins with an interactive dance workshop at 1 PM, followed by a lively, not-to-be missed performance at 2:15 PM. We checked in with A Palo Seco’s Artistic Director Rebeca Tomás about her upcoming performance.

Meet Rebeca Tomás

When and how did you get started as a flamenco dancer?

I discovered flamenco on a semester abroad in Granada, Spain during my junior year at college. I had grown up a musician (primarily piano, also clarinet), but not a dancer. During my semester in Granada, we went to see Antonio Canales’ production of “Torero,” and that was it. I was enthralled – more than anything, by the intricacies of the rhythms and all the musicality that I heard and saw in the footwork. Then there was the intensity of the singing and the emotional rawness inherent in everything I saw that night. I knew then that I had to make this art from an intimate part of my life.  During that semester I did an independent study project on flamenco. I immersed myself in the art form; attending any concert and show I could see. I took dance classes for the first time in my life. My body wasn’t quite ready but my feet were, and I was able to pick up the rhythms pretty easily and would go home and transcribe them musically. After that semester, I finished up college and then went straight back to Granada. I took flamenco classes, as well as ballet to train my body, and classical Spanish dance. I also studied with an ethnomusicologist at the Universidad de Granada, thinking I would most likely go down a more academic path since I had started dancing so late in life. But I became more and more focused on dance and ultimately chose that path. I spent the majority of the next decade in Spain – Granada, Madrid, Sevilla – immersing myself in the art form of flamenco and honing what would become my profession and life passion.

What intrigues you most about flamenco music and dance?

What originally drew me to the art form continues to be one of my main true loves of flamenco – its rhythmic nature, and all of the intricate textures and groovy feels involved in it… what flamencos call “soniquete.” I am also, as I was in the beginning, drawn to the emotional rawness found in the styles of song that are sung a capella, or “a palo seco,” known as “Cante Jondo,” or “Deep Song.” It is because of this that I named my first production, “A Palo Seco,” which then became the name of my company. As described in the company bio: “A Palo Seco” is a phrase that refers to a bare-bones style of flamenco music, often consisting of singing or percussion alone. This stripped-down aesthetic has become a central theme in artistic director Rebeca Tomas’ choreography, characterizing her biggest departures from tradition, while also rooting her work in the emotional rawness that lies at the heart of the art of flamenco.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been very challenging for performing artists. How did you spend your time while venues were closed? Did you explore any new hobbies or learn new skills?

Apart from being a flamenco dancer/ choreographer/ artistic director, I am the mother of two – and when the pandemic hit, my daughter was in kindergarten and my son was in second grade. So I spent much of my time helping to “school” them, navigating zoom and other academic needs, as well as our whole family experience. I delved into the experience, reading all of the Roald Dahl books with them, doing many arts & crafts activities, playing music, playing games, and exploring outdoor spaces. 

Artistically, I studied on my own, took online classes with artists in Spain who I never would have been able to study with otherwise, and taught my own online classes as well. I did a couple of video projects, creating fun pieces that I had thought about for a while but never focused on because they wouldn’t necessarily be part of the company repertoire. I was also involved in a project with another company, modeled after the Decameron, in which ten choreographers from the U.S. and Spain each created and filmed a single choreography each day and discussed the process. The project was incredibly inspiring, fun to be involved with, and also quite challenging.

What can visitors to Flushing Town Hall expect from your workshop and performance on May 14th?

Visitors can expect a lively, engaging, colorful, and rhythmic flamenco performance by a cast of seven artists, both dancers, and musicians. Designed for a family audience, the pieces we’ll be performing tend be to more of the upbeat side of flamenco, though they’ll also get a taste of what “a palo seco” really means and feels like with our “Martinete” choreography, which features three female dancers in pants and jackets. They will see and hear castanets, “castañuelas,” footwork “zapateo,” rhythmic hand-clapping “palmas,” guitar, percussion (el cajón– a wooden percussive box), tambourines “panderetas,” and lots of colorful and traditional flamenco costumes. The cast includes three female dancers, two female dancers/singers, one male guitarist, one male percussionist/ singer. 

The workshop will give an introduction to flamenco history and break down the art form so that visitors will better understand what they are going to see on stage. We will also teach the basics of flamenco dance and music – including rhythmic hand-clapping, footwork, and how to dance and communicate with the musicians. 

The workshop and show are appropriate for all ages, but probably most enjoyed by ages 4 or 5 and up.

Any new and exciting projects on the horizon for you?

We are in the process of creating new work that we intend to present as an evening-length production by next Spring 2023. 

Join us on May 14th for flamenco with A Palo Seco! Purchase your in-person tickets for the interactive flamenco workshop and the flamenco performance.

Those unable to attend in person can watch the livestream for free at: https://www.youtube.com/flushingtownhall/live. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Italy Meets Senegal in APRIl Mashup

Flushing Town Hall’s Common Ground: Mini-Global Mashups series will continue with “Southern Italy Meets Senegal” on April 3rd. Italian songstress Alessandra Belloni will join Senegalese drummer Alioune Faye. The event will also feature the series curator, the acclaimed Klezmer trumpeter Frank London, as a special guest.

Meet Alessandra Belloni

How did you get your start in music? 

I began my artistic career as a child in Rome, Italy. I always sang, since I was seven years old, as a soloist in my school choir. I also started doing theater in Rome. At age 14, I was cast by legendary actress Anna Magnani for the play LA LUPA (The SheWolf), and later I also worked with the famous Italian director Federico Fellini in the film Casanova. I loved singing and acting. Since my father did not give me permission to be an artist, I came to New York following my brother and sister, with my mother, who wanted me to pursue my music career. She loved music and theater and always loved to sing. I decided to stay in New York in the early seventies and began singing Italian folk music in cafes in Greenwich Village with guitarist-composer John La Barbera. I became an artist-in-residence at NYU Italian Department in 1979 and began our musical presentations there with our group I GIULLARI DI PIAZZA. That is when my passion for playing southern Italian percussion became very strong and part of my life. We went to the south of Italy every summer to do field research and wrote our own folk operas to bring to the New York stages and became artists in residence at the Cathedral of St John the Divine.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for many artists. How did you spend your time during the shutdown? How did you adapt? 

I was a touring artist for many years, and in that one month of March 2020, my whole life turned around. I was in shock and extremely worried, like everyone else, by the pandemic lockdown. Since my book came out, HEALING JOURNEYS WITH THE BLACK MADONNA, published by Inner Traditions in 2019, I became more known around the world as a teacher.

I have been teaching drumming and singing and some dance for 25 years. So I decided to start teaching online using zoom, which I knew nothing about. In just over one month I was able to get my classes going and have many students sign up. My life changed from a touring artist to an online teacher!

I had good responses, and some of those students are still with me now! It has been an amazing experience that led me to also create a VIRTUAL PILGRIMAGE to the Black Madonna sacred sites video series on Teachable as an online course.

But now, after two years, I really miss playing live. I am glad we can resume in-person performances. It feeds my soul, as I am sure it does for most artists!

As the only woman in the U.S. and in Italy who specializes in traditional, Southern Italian folk dances and percussion combined with singing, can you tell us what led you on the journey to combine all of these unique disciplines?

As I traveled through southern Italy and then around the world, I was always inspired by the local indigenous folk cultures of southern Italy and other countries, where the “masters” of a folk tradition have to learn to sing, drum, and dance and then choose one art form to master. I was very blessed to meet amazing elders, women and men, and also younger generation musicians, singers, percussionists, and folk dancers who became my mentors, inspiring me to combine that art form that I learned from each one. I would never do what I do without my wonderful teachers in the south of Italy.

What enticed you to collaborate with the other musician you’ll be performing with in Flushing Town Hall’s Mini-Global Mashup?

During this strange time we are living in, we need to come together more as artists to bring positive energy and light into the world! It is truly a great inspiration to collaborate with such great artists like Frank London. I personally have done cross-cultural collaborations for many years, with Native American, African, Indian, and Brazilian artists; and I love African music, which is also the root of our Southern Italian drumming and dance tradition.

What do you have on the horizon? 

This summer I am planning to hold a very special ritual drumming and dance workshop and pilgrimage to the sacred sites of the Black Madonna in Southern Italy from July 31st to August 8th in the region of Campania, Naples. I want to bring more students and musicians to Southern Italy to learn the traditions in the motherland.

This new workshop will be a full immersion into the ancient drumming traditions and devotional chants in honor of the Black Madonna, which can only be truly experienced in the motherland. This powerful journey will introduce and transport students to a time and place where an unbroken and ancient tradition continues today with folk music, processions, devotional drumming, and dance.

We will also have a special guest, Nando Citarella from Naples, a renowned Neapolitan folk musician, classical singer, and percussionist teacher. He is also my long-time collaborator and friend. He is one of the most important and well-known figures in the revival of Southern Italian folk music. 

During these workshops, students will study the basic Italian tambourine and frame drumming techniques of the Tammorriata 4/4 rhythm in honor of the Black Madonna and the dance, which dates back to the rites of the Mother Earth Goddess Cybele –and the Egyptian Goddess Isis, both of whom are now worshiped as the Black Madonna all over the south of Italy.

I am also working on a film project about the Black Madonna based on my book, but it’s too soon to announce details.

For more information, visit www.alessandrabelloni.it, or https://www.facebook.com/events/2543849889080160/

Join us on April 3 at 1 PM EST for our “Southern Italy Meets Senegal” mini-global mashup concert. Purchase your in-person tickets HERE. $15/$12 Members. Those unable to attend in person can join our livestream for free at: https://www.youtube.com/flushingtownhall/live. Donations are greatly appreciated.