Diversity in music and art

Unique hues in a big tapestry: Nine countries get together and perform at this year’s Folkmoot, which runs through July 29.

What do you do when you’re scheduled for a 36-hour plane ride and your luggage includes a 150-pound carved wooden drum? (Don't even try to close the overhead compartment on that one.)

Most of Folkmoot's performers make the most of their demanding trips. Take Batimbo, a drumming group from Burundi in East Africa. You may have heard some of the buzz when this group made a special appearance at the downtown Asheville drum circle last year. (If not, visit http://avl.mx/ih for clip.)

Karen Babcock, Folkmoot’s executive director, remembers the group's Friday-night cameo. “They were just like rock stars; we actually had to hold the crowd back,” she says. This year, expect a similar surprise appearance when one of Folkmoot’s performing groups brings an international flavor to the drum circle on the first night of Bele Chere. The 2012 Folkmoot festival spans July 18-29, with 24 performances in nine counties and 14 cities in the Southeast.

According to Babcock, “The heart of Folkmoot is to bring culture and diversity, and teach tolerance and peace as part of this process of bringing world music, to Western North Carolina.” Although the primary focus of the festival is an artistic cultural exchange, there are other, more subtle elements to the event. “These nine, very diverse groups from all over the world who have never met before will get together and begin to learn about one another and exchange their cultures,” Babcock says. “It’s pretty amazing.”

Festivals past are rich with examples of amazement, Babcock says. “… One year — and this is before I got here so it’s just hearsay — they actually had Palestine and Israel here at the same time, and it was phenomenal. They tell me there was absolutely no stress, no tension. They were as warm and open to each other as any two groups could be.” Whether you’re looking at performers’ interactions with each other or the audience’s interaction with the performers, “We find out by the end of the festival that we’re really not all that different,” Babcock says.

This year’s lineup pulls from all over the world map: Whitireia from New Zealand; Cosandama from Peru; Kandarpa Gunita from Indonesia; Talija from Serbia; Sining Kumintang ng Batangas from Philippines; Ballet Folklorico Brumas del Torito from Puerto Rico; Halau O Po’ohala from Hawaii; Die Rooselaer from Belgium; and La Poulido de Gemo from France.

With many performances happening throughout the region, there are multiple opportunities to see the different groups. Eight events feature all of the performing groups in the same show. This will be the most “all-group” performances that Folkmoot has offered in many years. Depending on the size of the venue, the other performances in the region will have select combinations of performers. “The groups don’t just have one performance that they repeat,” Babcock explains. “They might have a repertoire of up to 12 or 13 dances that they’ll be rotating as they go through the different venues.”  Additionally, they’ll even have different costumes for different performances.

For Babcock, each show contributes its unique hue to the larger tapestry. But there is once performance she expects will be exceptionally bright. “The Candlelight Closing at Lake Junaluska is probably the most emotional performance,” Babcock says. “It’s the last performance of the festival before everybody goes home. They all get to know each other really well so it’s a real farewell, and you can see it [on stage]. There are all these undercurrents and emotions running, and the audience loves that. They see the results of Folkmoot in that performance, so it’s pretty special.”

With performances throughout the region, chances are that there will be one that is convenient for you. Or perhaps you’ll want to use this as an excuse to escape the crowds of downtown during Bele Chere.

— Stephanie Guinan can be reached at stephguinan@gmail.com.

what: Folkmoot
where: Performance locations include Asheville, Bryson City, Burnsville, Canton, Cherokee, Clyde, Cullowhee, Flat Rock, Franklin, Hickory, Jonesborough, TN, Lake Junaluska, Maggie Valley, and Waynesville.
when: Twenty-four public events, through July 29. For more information, see the complete Folkmoot schedule at http://www.FolkmootUSA.org or call 877-365-8725.

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