Meet Me at the Oasis
Laura Quinlan will not stray from her mission. "I am trying to get Miami more on the music scene of the touring summer concert series," she proclaims as she opens another series of performances under the stars at the 73rd Street Bandshell. "The Bandshell series is our version of Central Park's Northstage."
This weekend the director of the Rhythm Foundation comes a little closer to mission accomplished as she brings Vive La World, the French modern world music festival, to Miami. "I've been trying to bring this show to Miami for the last five years, and finally fully committed myself to it this year, with great partnerships," she explains. "It was just too expensive in the past to bring 37 people down here. Because of distances that the large groups incur when traveling, it is oftentimes too difficult to successfully bring groups down to the cultural oasis of Miami, since shows such as Vive La World are unlikely to make any other stops within the state of Florida."
Cheikha Rimitti is affectionately known as the mother of rai music. At 79 years old she still dominates the stage, wailing out the traditionally high-pitched melodies that can sound like either lullabies or possessed incantations, casting spells on the audience through her Gypsy-like costumes and fantastic sparkles. A rai pioneer, Rimitti explored the cultural mélange of colonial Algeria, drawing from Spanish, French, and Arabic influences. Early on she sang in cafes and bordellos before the music gained legitimacy in the 1950s. The word itself means opinion, and the lyrics of most rai songs display raw, heartfelt emotion, as do the performers onstage.
At the time of the Algerian revolution, rai gathered steam from its association with rebellious, anti-authoritarian sentiments. Since the influx of Algerian immigrants to France beginning in the 1960s, rai has become part of the contemporary French soundscape, included in the nation's annual Fete de la Musique.
Rimitti will share the stage with Sahraoui, another rai pioneer and fellow Algerian. He remained in Algeria making music long after Rimitti, but was forced into exile in France in 1994 after the death of one of his colleagues, Hasni, proved that his own life was threatened by religious fundamentalists. Since moving to the metropole, he feels that he belongs to a more recent wave of Algerian immigrants who find rai, a reminder of home, already waiting for them.
"The strong presence of the music here welcomes the new Maghrebi immigrants, who see themselves in it," says Sahraoui. That music is specific to North Africa, however, and does not provide the same comfort for other African immigrants in France. "Rai really has no resemblance to other African music, except that we are linked by a similar internal rhythm," Sahraoui points out.
Audiences at the Vive La World show will be able to make the comparison when Franco-Cuban electropical group P18 and Malian Afrotronica artist Issa Bagayogo take the stage. Bagayogo has recorded on Six Degrees, the same cutting-edge label that released the Buddha Bar series and the bossa nova lounge of Bebel Gilberto. All of these artists meld the rhythm and melody of traditional world music to the electronic pulse of global culture. "This brings world music to a much more accessible level," explains the Rhythm Foundation's Quinlan. And that's what makes the summer series worth all the trouble.
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