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Maya Soleil and The Guarneri Underground - 18 Dec. 2000

 

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 and yodeling.

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

 

 

 



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