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.

Akua Allrich Honors artist-activists Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba

Women’s History Month continues at Flushing Town Hall with a soul-stirring Tribute to Nina Simone & Miriam Makeba by the talented Akua Allrich on Saturday, March 19 at 8 PM ET.

Meet Akua Allrich

Your performance pays homage to two iconic artists, Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba. What is it about these two artists that draws you to their music, and why pair them together in a concert?

Nina Simone’s and Miriam Makeba’s music and legacies were very present in my life growing up. Makeba was one of mom’s favorite vocalists and Simone was a favorite of both my parents. Their work as musicians and as activists has made an everlasting impression on my work as a musician, as their philosophy of using their platform to speak for and empower the people continues to inspire me as a woman of African descent. Curating a presentation that honors the two of them kind of came organically for me. My tribute started off as just a Nina Simone tribute in 2008. The following year I added Miriam Makeba and it has truly taken on a life of its own ever since. I love the contrast and balance that exists between Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba’s respective approaches. I’ve always seen Nina Simone as having a fire energy, and Miriam Makeba having a water energy. Both are pure and cleansing, but the approach is different. Complimentary  if you will. Their dedication and clarity are characteristics that I aspire to in my work. The legacy they left is one that is not just pomp and circumstance, it is depth, truth and power. 

Your musical style draws from many genres, such as jazz, pan-African music, blues, soul, and R&B. Why do these  genres resonate with you and what do they have in common? 

They have me in common. LOL! I was raised as a Pan-African woman, and honestly, I was being trained as a musician in utero. My father was a jazz musician and he taught us in that tradition. I was also a part of a West African dance company for most of my childhood, dancing, playing drums and percussion and singing and different languages. Black music from the African diaspora and from the African continent has been a part of my life and expression all my life. My style is an amalgamation of all of those experiences and styles. They are a part of me.

How did growing up in a musical family influence your artistic journey?

I always say, my spirit chose music and music obliged. It won’t let me go. I actually didn’t set out to become a professional musician, but between my dad being a musician and growing up with the arts all around me, I don’t think I have much of a choice. It came so natural to me, probably because it was such a huge part of my upbringing.

Did attending an HBCU influence your appreciation of Black music?

I think it validated my love for it and gave me a more technical understanding of the art forms. 

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I do. I’m working on some exciting new recording opportunities this year. I’m very excited to announce some new things very soon!

Akua Allrich

Joins us as we celebrate Women’s History Month with Akua Allrich’s tribute to Nina Simone and Miriam Makeba on March 19 at 8 PM ET. Purchase your 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.

Discover The Musical Talents of Flushing Town Hall’s Deputy Director Sami Abu Shumays

Sami Abu Shumays is not only Flushing Town Hall’s Deputy Director, he is also a leading force in Arabic music, well known for his teaching and scholarly writings on the subject, his compositions and playing. On Sunday, March 13th, our dear colleague will be performing in the mini-global mashup “India Meets Egypt” alongside Grammy-nominated musician Falu and her husband Gaurav Shah.

MEET SAMI ABU SHUMAYS

Sami Abu Shumays

When and how did you first get started in music, and what draws you to Arabic music in particular?

I started learning piano at five years old and violin at eight, in Pittsburgh PA where I grew up. I learned classical music and was interested in composing, and I got an undergraduate degree in music theory and composition. In my final year of college I was introduced to Arabic Music, and was immediately drawn to it for many reasons – first there was the connection to my own Arab heritage, which I wanted to deepen. In addition, I was really interested in improvisation and ornamentation and different musical modes and scales, and I found a lot to learn there because Arabic music has one of the most interesting and complex scale systems from around the world, much like Indian music practiced by my friend Falu. Where European classical music has basically 2 scales, in Arabic music has more than 30. So there’s a lot to explore, and I think that exploring something new has been a really compelling journey for me over the last 25 years. Overall it’s not new to me anymore, but I am still discovering new things every day in my musical practice.

You are the co-leader of Zikrayat. Tell us a bit about this ensemble. Where can people come and see you perform?

The word “zikrayat” means “memories” in Arabic, and we started the ensemble with the idea of “remembering” forgotten repertory, especially from the mid-20th century “movie musical” period of Egyptian Cinema. Most people in the US don’t know that, but Egypt had a major film industry that cranked out a huge number of movie musicals starting in the 1930s and running at least through the 1970s. Every important singer, composer, instrumentalist, dancer, etc. in the Arab world in the mid-20th century worked in film, so there’s a lot of amazing repertory, some of which remains very popular to this day in the Arabic music community, and some of which has been completely forgotten. So we perform this repertory – imagine if we were a jazz band performing repertory from the American song book, that would be the closest equivalent to what we’re doing in the Arabic music context. Sometimes Falu performs with her “Bollywood Orchestra” – and Bollywood, and that repertory, is another analogy for what we do in Zikrayat.

As for the ensemble itself, we’re usually a 4-6 piece ensemble of traditional Arab instruments like Oud, Qanun, percussion, and violin (which I play, and which has been used in traditional Arab music since the late 19th century). We work with different vocalists, and also often perform with dancers. The dance we present is what most Americans know as “Belly Dance,” but which is known in Egypt as raqs sharqi – it is a traditional dance form based on indigenous movement vocabulary which was stylized into stage presentations in the late 19th/early 20th century. We work with a number of dancers who focus specifically on the style of the great dancers of the film era, especially the 1940s-60s. There are a number of different styles of “Belly dance” being practiced in the US at this time; Zikrayat’s dance presentations generally focus on the Egyptian style. 

As for where people can see us perform, I highly recommend people follow me at
https://www.instagram.com/abushumays/ or https://www.facebook.com/sami.abu.shumays

You can also follow Brooklyn Maqam which is a great organization that promotes Arabic Music events in New York City at https://instagram.com/brooklynmaqam/ or https://www.facebook.com/brooklynmaqam/

What are you most excited about for your Mini Mashup collaboration with two-time GRAMMY nominated singer-songwriter Falu? How is her music different from or similar to yours?

Falu is a dear friend, and I’ve been fortunate to perform with her many times over the last decade and a half I’ve known her. She’s one of the most skilled musicians I’ve ever worked with, so I look forward to EVERY time I get to play with her – she’s a true master. 

Comparing Arabic Music to Indian music would take a few books, not a blog post, but what I can say here is that there are a lot of similarities: both music traditions are very old, and have a lot of complexity and depth. Both traditions are highly improvisatory, but that improvisation is rooted in particular vocabularies shared by the music communities. Both traditions have a focus on melodic delivery, and don’t use harmony, or don’t use it very much. There’s also a lot of similarity in some of the musical vocabularies, due to centuries of cross-pollination and influence going both ways. And there’s even more recent influence, in that Egyptian cinema actually influenced Bollywood (and we’re going to perform together a song from a 1935 Egyptian film that was covered in a 1951 Indian film). 

So there are a lot of points of intersection – but of course on another level, the actual music is completely different, different scales, different beats, different instruments, and completely different song repertories. I’m lucky that I’ve gotten to learn some of Falu’s repertory over the years, and that she’s invited me to play with her on her songs, even though I’m an Arab violinist rather than an Indian violinist. So when we play some of that repertory together on this show, it’ll be something we’ve done before, but we have a great chemistry together that I think Flushing Town Hall’s audience will find delightful. 

When not working as a musician or music scholar, you serve full-time as deputy director at Flushing Town Hall. How do you juggle those different roles, and how do they complement one another?

Work/life balance is always a challenge, and juggling a side hustle with a full time job always takes lots of focus and effort. I’m very fortunate that Flushing Town Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director, Ellen Kodadek, wants to make space for her staff’s artistic pursuits, and allows enough flexibility in work to enable that to happen. But it’s not easy! As for how those roles complement each other, I’d say that it is my understanding of the challenges that traditional immigrant artists face in NYC that drew me to Flushing Town Hall, because of its mission to elevate global art forms. I guess I’m saying it’s complementarity in its mission. But I’m not involved in the programming or curation at Flushing Town Hall – in fact I try to stay out of it as much as I can. Instead, I’m involved on the administrative side, where my responsibilities are government relations, Human Resources, finance, Board relations, and other aspects of legal non-profit compliance. The part of that where I get to speak about our mission is really on the advocacy side to government, and my personal experience as an immigrant artist is what animates my advocacy on behalf of Flushing Town Hall and the arts sector as a whole. Not a lot of artists participate in direct advocacy to government and other funders, and I’m grateful that Flushing Town Hall has provided me with that platform and that opportunity.

What’s on the horizon for you in your music career?

What’s growing at the moment is my reputation as a teacher of Arabic Music. I’m co-author of a book, Inside Arabic Music (Oxford University Press 2019), which came out just before the pandemic hit, and a lot of people have read it over the last two years. During the pandemic, I did a lot of online teaching, and then finally realized a goal I had for several years, to develop a series of video lessons for YouTube that complement the book. Those have been a big hit, and it’s helping me to build an audience, bring in more students, and more opportunities for teaching and traveling. I’m also hopeful to be doing more gigging with Zikrayat and other groups as the performing arts start to open up more over the coming year. I guess I can’t totally predict what will happen, I’m just hoping to have more music work this year as it is really my passion. And I love teaching, so I’m really excited about the growth of that side of my career.

Join us on March 13 at 1 PM EST for our “India Meets Egypt” 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.

India Meets Egypt in Our Next Mini-Global Mashup

Flushing Town Hall’s Common Ground: Mini-Global Mashups concert series will present “India Meets Egypt” on Sunday, March 13 at 1 PM EST, featuring two time GRAMMY-Nominee Falu from India, and Sami Abu Shumays adding Arabic music to the mix. We checked in with Falu about her upcoming mashup.

Meet Falu

What and/or who inspired you to become a musician?

My mother inspired me to sing when I was three years old and started my formal training at three years as well. I was also very fortunate and lucky to learn from legends like Kaumudi Munshi at a very young age, and then continued to learn from Ustad Sultan Khan and Kishori Amonkar and Uday Mazumdar. These brilliant, legendary musicians and my mom inspired me to be a musician. 

How would you describe your music style? Which musical influences does it have?

My style is drawn from deep rooted Indian classical music and folk music, as well as semi classical music from India. I also draw freely from American music – be it folk, pop or rock. I am influenced by singers and musicians like Aretha Franklin, The Beatles, Emmylou Harris, Mozart, U2, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. along with my own teachers.

You were recently nominated for your second GRAMMY in the category of Best Children’s Album. What inspires you to create music for children and how do you approach the process?

My son inspires me to write music for children. Generally, my everyday life with him inspired me to create music for him and all the other kids. Kids have a beautiful mind and world of their own, and I like to put myself in their shoes and become a child with them when I am around children. I think music is just a reflection of my happiness that I feel around children.

On March 13, you’ll be mashing up your music with Sami Abu Shumays’ Arabic tunes. What are you most looking forward to in the evening? What do you enjoy or find interesting in his music?

Sami is my most favorite Arabic musician in this whole wide world. His music is so pure and I love to soak myself up totally in his musical world when he sings and/or plays his violin. His approach towards maqams is so brilliant and very deep. I enjoy connecting the two worlds of ragas and maqams that I get to collide when I am playing with him. His music is very intelligent, but also very emotional, and I find that very interesting and quite a beautiful combination in Sami’s music.

Any exciting new projects on the horizon for you?

A new project for me is a band called “American Patchwork Quartet.” It is me singing American folk songs with my own twist on them – and that’s very exciting right now.

Join us on March 13 at 1 PM EST for our “India Meets Egypt” 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.

Barbara Rosene Pays Tribute to Peggy Lee in Women’s History Month Series

We are excited to present vocalist Barbara Rosene, who will perform You Give Me Fever – The Peggy Lee Songbook, a tribute to the jazz and popular music singer whose career spanned seven decades and helped redefine what it meant to be a female singer on Thursday, March 10 at 7PM.

Meet Barbara Rosene

How did you get your start in music?

I sang in church to begin with, and still do, but I really got my start in college singing with a Big Band on weekends. So I was making money with music by the time I was 19 or 20, and I think that makes you think it’s a viable life choice. I knew all the early swing tunes ( Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Harry James, Glenn Miller) and a reasonable amount of older jazz standards. I also sang at a little dive bar once a week near my Catholic college, and my dad would come and sit with one of our priests and have a scotch and soda while I sang. Music was always in the household. My grandfather had a quartette and had done a little touring. My big break, in a way, was with The Harry James Orchestra in 2008, and I still tour with them. 

You do a lot of covers of old jazz songs going all the way back to the 1920s and 1930s. What is it about jazz and music from that era that you feel drawn to?

I grew up on 40’s and 50s standards, and Big Band music, and then when I first came to New York I got into the world of traditional jazz and the Tin Pan Alley Composers, because I wanted to see where it all started. I liked hearing the songs in a more simple and straight forward way. I listened to Ethel Waters, Mildred Bailey, and Ruth Etting. They were the women recording at the time these early standards were written. Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, and Peggy Lee, to name a few, all had huge hits with Tin Pan Alley tunes of the 20s and 30s. They were songs from our collective consciousness. 

Peggy Lee had a successful career that lasted decades. What about her music resonates with you and inspired you to do this performance?

Peggy’s performances seem effortless to me. In a world of the “Big Ending” and “Jazz Hands”, I am drawn to what is authentic and graceful. And by no means do I want to infer that her music is simple or easy – it is just that she is so prepared, so painstaking, so hip, so natural, that it APPEARS effortless. I also love her subtle improvising. She really never sang anything the same way twice. But it was very chill. Her choice of musicians was unparalleled, and I always admired her rapport with them. I also admire her reinvention of herself. She would just transform every few years. She never went out of style. I guess that’s what makes her one of a a handful of completely unique singers from the 20th century.

Do you have a favorite Peggy Lee song? 

Her favorite song was “The Folks Who Live On The Hill,” I think because of her upbringing. She wanted a lovely, uncomplicated and secure world. I think that song represented that for her. It’s on the 1957 Capital Records album where Sinatra conducted the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. She kills it. It was also my mom’s favorite song….So I think that’s my answer, too.

Do you have any new projects on the horizon?

I have a recording project coming up with several other vocalists and an orchestra, but it is a little top secret right now, as we look for funding. It is a tribute to an earlier female vocalist. I’ll also be performing with The Harry James Orchestra later this year, as the world continues to come alive again, and I’ll be around NYC gigging and sitting in. I feel as though music is going to explode. We need it’s light, energy and connecting forces during these intense and mystifying times. Please everyone – go out and hear live music and revitalize your soul.

Join us on March 10 as Barbara Rosene honors Peggy Lee in this year’s Women’s History Month series. Purchase your 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.

Tina Fabrique Pays Homage to Gospel Music

In the final performance of Flushing Town Hall’s Black History Trilogy, award-winning Broadway veteran Tina Fabrique (Ragtime, Bring in da’ Noise, Bring in da’ Funk, The Wiz, Bubbling Brown Sugar, Gospel at Colonus), pays homage to gospel with The Power & The Glory – Music of the Black Church on February 24. Rooted in the solo and responsive church singing of the African-American South, gospel originated from both Black and white music of the 19th century: Black spirituals, slave songs, and white hymnody, emerging at the same time as ragtime, blues and jazz.

Meet Tina Fabrique

Tell us a bit about your own relationship with gospel music and the role it’s played in your life.

Tina Fabrique

My mother Ruth loved Mahalia Jackson’s singing, along with Clara Ward and the Soul Stirrers, to mention a few. My mom was a classically trained pianist, and I was the first singer in the family. 

I grew up hearing these phenomenal singers, and I realized that I just loved great music and singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. 

Born in Harlem, I heard the jazz influences, but somehow I was always being recruited to sing in a gospel group. I think mostly because I was young and my parents weren’t keen on me singing in bars and clubs. So at a young age I was singing with a local gospel group out of Brooklyn, and we would be called upon to open for the Gospel Train with famous groups like The Davis Sisters, The Blind Boys, and many others. I sang lead, and The Washington Temple Church in Brooklyn is where those great musical events happened. It was so exciting, and I was so shy, but I could hold my own.

I still do gospel music to this day, having starred in Europe with The Harlem Gospel Singers, produced by Roseanne Kirk. I also did a recording with Glorious Music in 1994 that won me two James Cleveland Awards that year. I actually co-wrote several of the songs with the talented Dana Reid on that project.

I guess you can take the girl out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the girl!

You are an award-winning singer and actress and longtime Broadway veteran. Who are some of the newer, up-and-coming performers you admire and whose careers you’ve been excited to watch take off?

To name a few: Lucky Day is a great singer and producer; Adrienne Warren who won the Tony for her phenomenal portrayal of Tina Turner. As I love live theater, I have to say Tasha Cobbs is great; and Jazmine Sullivan—she is a great singer-songwriter, and she’s paired with the wonderful H.E.R., who I also adore!

Do you have a favorite role that you performed over the years, and what made it so special?

Wow, that’s kind of tough! I’ve been so honored to be in some very special theater productions.

Rob Ruggiero and the late Danny Holgate chose me to portray the amazing Ella Fitzgerald in Rob’s brain child Ella, and we toured all over the country for seven years. Rob directed, and Danny wrote all the arrangements that made her famous and won her 13 Grammys. I sang 22 songs and literally played her life out on stages. My band members played some of the characters and Harold Dixon played Norman Grantz the famous jazz producer and her manager. What a joy! We didn’t just ‘imitate’ her; I was directed to embody her and every night I got to find her. Jeffrey Hatcher wrote the book and people spoke of being transported to jazz heaven by my magnificent musicians George Caldwell (music director pianist), Cliff Kellum on bass, Ron Haynes on trumpet, and Rodney Harper on drums.

Oh well, there is the amazing Bring In Da Noise Bring in the Funk—the only show of its kind on Broadway—and the music and magical world of The Wiz. Who could ask for anything more?!

Join us on February 24 for an evening of gospel music with Tina Fabrique. Purchase your 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.