|4 Aug 2008 @ 18:17, by John Ashbaugh
Cerrilos, New Mexico
Went to visit with Laura today at the bluegrass festival in Edgewood. She and her clayworker friend have an ez-up tent set-up amongst some scattered several others selling jewelry and beads and other such things as one may find under any number of ez-up tents at any number of art fairs. There’s some banjoin’ goin’ on in the background while I help Laura and her friend pick up their wares and take down the tent. Kathy’s husband John is the fourth hand and primary source of direction for this unfamiliar operation. They have done this putting up and taking down once before and that’s it. With one person in each corner, the process of folding up this giant umbrella goes smoothly.
There is one last group gonna work the stage this afternoon and they are other-worldly. A family of nine, five women and four men, what appears to be three generations of vibrantly happy people playing xylophones, all of them, except for the one who is shaking the pebble filled gourds. They can all be going on this array of instruments at the same time, or two or three of them might step up to the mike for some vocals, in a language from Africa. When you first look at this family, you think they must be Irish or Gaelic or they’re comin’ fresh down from the Appalachian mountains where they been livin’ the same as their granpappys all the way back two hundred and some odd years and back from there to Scotland or some such place in the British and Irish Isles.
All of the music coming through these instruments and these voices on this stage here in the middle of arid New Mexico is from Zimbabwe. The folks up on stage are having a blast, arms sometimes wildly outreaching and sometimes working in concentrated proximity, hitting those shingles like there was no tomorrow, and all they have to do forever is move around and switch instruments from piece to piece, so that every staged setting is a unique arrangement of those nine. After the audience has been thoroughly introduced to the Zimbabwean repertoire, the ensemble progresses into some of their own compositions, significantly influenced by the Zimbabwean source and a little more drawn out and slower, comparatively, with very narrow threads of transition from one development into another.
Either way, everything was marvelous. Watching the family themselves interacting with one another and with their music, and the music itself vibrating into the airwaves of the large open-sided tent set up in front of the stage to shade the audience. Brush and desert vegetation are all around in this small nature preserve where animal life is protected. Different members of the family take to the mike from time to time between pieces and talk to the audience, telling us what the music is about, and encouraging us to dance, which some do, and asking funny little interactive questions, like, do you think it’s alright for Zimbabwean xylophones to be a part of a bluegrass festival?
And the response is a resounding affirmative, complete with applause. The bigger afternoon crowds are gone, but those of us who have decided to stay for this very last show are mesmerized by this troupe of magicians. All the way to the last note, and I’m glad they got a CD I can take home and listen to some more. Zimbabwean Bluegrass.
Cerrilos, New Mexico