They showed up in Mardi Gras headdresses, fedoras and tutus paired with combat boots. They drummed on darbukas, djembes and congas. And many of the performers at Sunday’s GlobalFest also brought grievances with them along with their costumes and instruments: against occupation, the erasure of indigenous voices, walls.
GlobalFest, which took over the Copacabana nightclub near Times Square for the first time this year, is an annual showcase of music from all corners of the earth. This year 12 acts performed overlapping sets on three stages in what proved a joyful and often raucous celebration of diversity and culture’s uncanny knack for slipping through borders and stretching out roots underneath walls.
As such, the festival is an inherent act of defiance against any attempt to cement hierarchies.
At the same time, it complicates the notion of identity politics by demonstrating the composite nature of style. While the musicians’ art was always fueled by tradition, their distinct sounds were almost invariably shaped by the clash — or serendipitous kiss — of difference.
Sometimes it was the fusion of geographically far-flung styles that yielded new musical alloys. Indian ragas took on a flirtatious shimmer in the hands of Debashish Bhattacharya, who infused them with strains of Flamenco and Hawaiian music and performed them on a new breed of Indian slide guitar of his own devising. The result was a heady mix of languid Polynesian sounds caffeinated by the rhythmic fireworks of the tabla of Subhasis Bhattacharya, Debashish’s brother.
The members of 47Soul are drawn from the Palestinian diaspora, but the group’s musical roots reach even wider, encompassing Middle Eastern dabke drumming, fuzzy synth beats and reggae to eminently danceable effect. Politics are never far from the surface in lyrics that speak of dispossession and in the label — “Shamstep” — the band has given its music, which voices dreams of Arab unity across the Levant.
In fact, new labels were often needed to capture new hybrids: “Southern Gothic.” “Freak cabaret.” “Afropsychedelic.”
“Afrofuturist global bass” is how the members of Gato Preto describe their combustible blend of rap, funk and Senegalese drumming. The band is fronted by the explosively charismatic Gata Misteriosa, from Mozambique, who teamed up with the Ghanaian-German producer Lee Bass and Moussa Diallo, an incandescent djembe master from Senegal. Their set had a steamy carnival energy, with the relentless drive of the machine-made pulse amplified by heart-quickening flurries of live drumming.
Pulses were also set racing by BCUC, a South African group that brings punk-rock energy and hypnotic rhythms to social activism, and by the Orquesta Akokán, a Cuban-American big band uniting dazzling talent and midcentury polish in simmering mambos.
A very different spell was cast by Amythyst Kiah — a self-described “Southern Gothic” singer of “alt-country blues” — who gave a standout performance in the evening’s only solo act. Her razor-sharp guitar picking alone guarantees her a place among blues masters, but it’s her deep-hued voice that can change on a dime from brushed steel to melted toffee that commands attention.
In performance she comes across as both uncompromising and generous. She introduced a song, the traditional “Darling Cora,” by pointing out its shared roots in English and West African folk. When she sang it, accompanying herself on banjo, the instrument’s dry warmth seemed to carry echoes of the African stringed kora.
Jeremy Dutcher, a Canadian member of the Wolastoq tribe, showed that artistic dialogue can be just as fruitful when conducted, not across cultures, but between generations. Mr. Dutcher, who won the coveted Polaris Music Prize last year, draws on wax cylinder recordings from the early 1900s of songs in Wolastoqiyik — a language that is now in danger of extinction.
His lyrical compositions layer the ghostly frayed voices of his ancestors with jazzy arpeggios on the piano, keening cellos lines and arching phrases sung in his own voice, which is powered by classical training and colored here and there by the tremor and guttural catch of traditional chant.
Classical strains also filtered into the elegant set by Magos Herrera, a Mexican vocalist with a feline, smoky voice, who teamed with the string quartet Brooklyn Rider and the percussionist Mathias Kunzli for her new album “Dreamers.” Her songs are drawn from across Latin America, united by delight in melody and storytelling, supported by the string quartet as it seamlessly morphs from rhythm section to silver-screen swooning.
And classical instruments appeared — and were sometimes abused — in what was perhaps the most extraordinary show of the evening. Dakh Daughters is born out of Kiev’s theater scene and features seven women who bring equal parts musical and theatrical chops to performances that are witty, subversive and brash.
Dressed in tutus and combat boots with their faces painted white, the Daughters stalked the stage like conquerors taking possession of an alien territory. Texts (in Ukrainian, English and French) were delivered in shouts, hisses and yelps, with the voices sometimes coming together in exquisitely vocalized folk harmonies.
Individually, the voices belonged to wildly disparate worlds including heavy metal, punk, and the glassy plangency of Balkan folk singing. They handled instruments like found objects: a violin propped against a hip, a cello tilted at a rakish angle. The bassist mostly drew sound from her instrument by spanking it; the drummer stomped the foot pedal of her bass drum as if it were vermin.
A signature song of the Daughters is “Rozy/Donbass,” referring to a region contested by Russia, once known to Ukrainians for its rose gardens. It begins with a mournful setting of lines by Shakespeare delivered almost mechanically, with shouts of “Donbass” flung out with raw aggression. Eventually the music takes on a ritualistic whirl until it screeches to a halt with just the word “rozy” — roses — intoned as if by zombies.
The song, like the Daughters’ performance, is darkly seductive and alienating at once — a powerful expression of the tensions endured by women in conflict zones, and a reminder that identity often means fighting on multiple battle lines.