Some concerts are painful reminders of the inherent unfairness of the
music industry. Between Maya Soleil and The Guarneri Underground, the
stage of the Washington Center was filled with truly stunning multi-instrumentalist
performers November 18. And too few people were there to witness it.
I was excited going into this show. Not only had I been hyping it for
weeks on Spin the Globe, I'd also had a chance to do a radio interview
with Moye Kashimbi and Rob Pastorok of Maya Soleil. And I'd previously
interviewed Jeff Sick of the Guarneri Underground (on a cell phone while
he was trying to park for a gig that night!). And as the icing on the
cake, the promoter (yes, you!) had actually shown up to get me into
the show after the box office couldn't find my name on any of their
lists. The night was off to a good start.
I hung out backstage before the show, putting faces with the names
of musicians I'd only read about or talked to on the phone. Moye was
missing and the water hadn't arrived, but people were relaxed. Maya
Soleil bassist Lennox Holness told me of his passion for star-gazing
and how he nearly ran himself over with his own car once, when on a
desolate road he jumped out of his car to view the blazing night sky...and
forgot to set his parking brake. I couldn't wait to see if his playing
had the same kind of enthusiasm and spontaneity.( I wasn't disappointed.)
As Maya Soleil took the stage, I was please to see that this really
is a global band. Singer Moye Kashimbi is from Zambia; sax player Bob
Antolin is from the Philippines; Bassist Lennox Holness hails from Jamaica;
along with percussionists T.J. Morris and Chris Stomquist and keyboardist
Rob Pastorok, they draw on many influences and create a unique sound.
It's hard to imagine what Maya Soleil was like in its original incarnation
as an instrumental group, since Moye Kashimbi adds so much energy and
spirit. A natural performer, she began dancing with the Zambia National
Dance Troupe at age 9. She'd given a dance workshop earlier in the day,
and people began dancing early into the set.
I'd seen the Guarneri Underground once before, and enjoyed the show-the
rhythms, the pioneering use of violins, the showmanship of band leader
Jeff Sick. Yet this time, following Maya Soleil on stage, I had an epiphany
about their music. The Guarneri Underground is not a world music band,
but rather a rock band with world music influences. Replace the violins
with electric guitars and take away a few of T.J. Morris's percussion
toys, and you have Santana. Or something like that.
T.J. Morris deserves a little more press here. In fact, he deserves
some kind of award. The complexities and effort of simply setting up
his multi-level "world drum kit" would be enough to send me for a long
nap, yet this guy thumped, sang, and in various other ways percussed
his way through the sets of both bands. He really should get his own
Wheaties box. And the ethereal voice of Guarneri guest vocalist Beth
Quist was just as startling and magical as the first time I'd heard
her, though I couldn't help wondering if I was missing some of the substance
beneath the ornate pyrotechnics of her four-octave Greek-Egyptian swoops
Seeing these bands together helped me define their differences. If
you missed this show and are wondering whether you should catch them
in the future, here's a suggestion. If you're already sold on world
music, seek out a show by Maya Soleil. If you're dubious about world
music, try Guarneri-they are a toe-dip into world music with a lot of
familiar landmarks on the way. Both bands are great in their own way.
And if there's any justice at all in the music industry, both sets of
musicians should have a cheery future.
©Scott Stevens, December 2000