Friday, February 1, 2002

All the world is an instrument

The Getty to have a fifth year of music in "Sounds of L.A."


WHAT: The Getty's Sound of L.A. Music Series
WHERE: The Getty, 1200 Getty Center Drive, Los Angeles
WHEN:• 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. A 14-piece orchestra and a 21-member chorus performs traditional, folk and classical music from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq in "With Drops of Honey: The Music of Kan Zaman Community Ensemble"
• 8 p.m. Feb. 16, "Of My Heart's Desiring: Sentiment and Improvisation in North Indian Vocal Music," will feature singer Mala Ganguly.
• 3 p.m. Feb. 17,"Between Heaven and Earth: Hindustani Songs of Love and Devotion with singer Veenapani Rastogi"; accompanied by renowned flutist Radha Prasad.
• 8 p.m. March 16 and 3 p.m. March 17. Guinean singer and musician Prince Diabate in "Jaliyaa: Music from the Mandingo Empire"
• 8 p.m. April 6 and 3 p.m. April 7. "Te Doy Un Verso y Una Rosa: The Music of Los Cenzontles" with folk musician Julian Gonzalez and friends is a musical journey from rural Jalisco and Michaocan to the urban centers of California.

MUSIC is a subtle diplomat. Disguised as sitar, veiled as a song, music is the world's universal language; the easiest path to a new culture.

To Guinean kora master musician, Prince Diabate, these ideas about music are implicit. Born into a prominent West African family, his heritage includes the responsibility of carrying certain important traditions.

His ancestors, the Jalis (or Griots), were oral historians, as well as messengers, ambassadors, tutors to princes as well as the area musicians, explained manager Linda Bawden Allen, who translated for French-speaking Prince Diabate, during his interview.

In ancient times, the specific role of the Jalis was to act as mediators, stepping in to reconcile warring factions. Very often the tribe would send the Jali with his musical instrument, the kora, to represent them to the enemy, "so the role of music is connected in that way to diplomacy, to peace and reconciliation," said Allen.

Prince Diabate is scheduled to perform at the Getty Center on March 16-17 as a part of this year's "Sounds of L.A." world music series. He will be joined by other West African musicians as well as a dancer, who will perform Jilian dancing. Getting a peek at his handmade kora, a 21-stringed instrument made from a gourd and other natural materials, might be worth the trip alone. Now a resident of Los Angeles, he promises to sport his red one which he made entirely of materials from California, as well as a white one, which was his father's.

Now in its fifth year, "Sounds of L.A." lifts local musicians right out of the Southern California landscape and puts them onto the Getty stage. This year, eight concerts that span from February to April, offers the unique opportunity to hear local musicians play the music of the Middle East, Northern India, Africa and Mexico.

Since the Getty Center opened, it was active in not only presenting great works of art in exhibitions and shows but also offered musical concerts of all different types as well.

"We are the Getty `Center. We feel as though we are a cultural center ... so we also present a broad range of performing arts in the hope of drawing different audiences to the Getty," said Laurel Kishi, performing arts manager at the Getty.

"We also built upon the idea that there are all kinds of people around the Los Angeles region. Los Angeles is a crossroads in many ways. L.A.'s big!" said Kishi.

Each year, they seek out those "jewels," top-notch performers in and around Los Angeles, "people that are not normally on what you would find on a regular program schedule." Said Kishi, we "really dig deep within our own back yard, and you'd be amazed at the level of musicianship in our own city. In another context, they could be performing on a world stage somewhere else."

This world music series began in 1998 and has continued to be one of the Getty's most popular events. Although all concerts are free, reservations are required, and each year, by the time the concert rolls around, seats are long gone.

Arcadia-based Kan Zaman Community Ensemble will lead this year's series, with a concert on Saturday and Sunday. This 14-piece orchestra will perform traditional, folk and classical music from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, and Iraq, and although their presence in the series is perfectly logical, Kishi says there was a conscious choice to put them first this year. "After Sept. 11, we felt it was important to pay closer attention to this (particular) community in Los Angeles ... it made sense in the context of what was happening."

Music in India serves as pleasure, entertainment and communication, and is considered one of the most essential things in all of life; becoming a musicians is even considered something of a "shortcut" to the highest level of enlightenment, said Pasadena resident Hari Rao who, along with Indian music legend Ravi Shankar co-founded The Music Circle. Since 1973, The Music Circle has been putting on concerts that display the talent of Indian musicians and singers in and around the Pasadena area. Kishi worked with Rao to present two different Indian music concerts in March. The Saturday concert with singer Mala Ganguly will feature songs that are romantic; the Sunday concert that features singer Veenapani Rastogi will explore themes that are religious.

Shankar believes that this year, the music series will be especially meaningful. Prior to Sept. 11, "Americans, I think had become pretty myopic," said Shankar. "Multiculturalism, localism in art: all these things are important now because people are trying to get to know other cultures and people around this planet," said Shankar. Indians, he said, possess a great love of music. So there is no better way to learn about Indian culture than through its music.

The need for and understanding of music is fundamental," said Shankar. "It's universal."

Linda Hutchinson can be reached at (626) 962-8811, Ext. 2611, or via e-mail at