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Worlds of Sound Reach L.A.A Korean Traditional Performing Arts Troupe member plays the gayageum, a 12-string zither.

Worlds of Sound Reach L.A.

The World Festival of Sacred Music is under way, bringing cultures and communities together.

By Angilee Shah
Staff Writer

The festival is about going back to the roots of what it means to build community. What you have is that everyone is a participant in the festival's intentions.

If you've never heard Tuvan throat-singing, no description will do. But hear this attempt: the singers create a low, controlled rumbling that resonates to produce a second, higher tone. In short, it's a single person singing two distinct notes at once.

Chirgilchin, or "Miracle," is a trio of throat-singers from the Tuva in the southernmost part of Siberia. Along with other musicians from around the world, the group performed for an audience of Angelinos at the opening concert of the World Festival of Sacred Music. The five-hour event was held Sept. 17 at the UCLA Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.

The concert kicked off a two-week festival featuring over 1,000 artists from around the world in 43 events held across the Los Angeles metro area, from Thousand Oaks to Santa Monica to Hacienda Heights. Festival-goers are encouraged to explore not only new types of music, but also new parts of the community.

Arriving before dusk, the opening concert's audience was welcomed by the rich drums of the Ti'at Society, an organization dedicated to preserving Native American traditions of Southern California, and the Mankillers, an all-female drumming group from various Native American tribes. In a blessing led by UCLA World Arts and Cultures graduate student Cindi Moar Alvitre, festival-goers were welcomed to the concert by the "Coming Home Song."

Paradoxically, the festival, which brings most of its performers from far away, is indeed about homecoming. According to organizers, it celebrates connections that music makes between peoples around the globe.

In its premiere performance, "Gonja Dreams," created by Iddi Saaka, brought the world together on stage. Musicians and dancers from Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Brazil, Israel and the United States combined traditional African beats with contemporary sounds from Western instruments.

Saaka, who graduated with a Masters of Fine Arts in choreography from UCLA, says that the festival opened doors for him. He has already received requests to perform "Gonja Dreams" in other venues. More importantly, Saaka says, creating this intercultural music and dance has given him lasting bonds with diverse performers: "The creation aspect was as important as the performance itself."

"Gonja Dreams" was barefoot music, the kind that gets audience members out of their lawn chairs to dance with performers. Anuradha Kishore Ganapati, the World Festival's communications officer and emcee of the opening concert, said that such interaction is precisely what organizers hope for. "The festival is about going back to the roots of what it means to build community. What you have is that everyone is a participant in the festival's intentions."

Iddi Saaka performs "Gonja Dreams." (Photos courtesy of the World Festival of Sacred Music)

A third set of performers brought music and dance from Latin America. Los Folkloristas and Danza Floricanto/USA featured lively guitars and drums and beautiful Spanish vocals, accompanied by Mexican dancers with flaring skirts.

As the full moon became clearly visible behind the outdoor stage, the Korean Traditional Performing Arts Troupe gave a subtle performance in a musical style that includes ancient Buddhist chanting and Shaman ritual. The troupe is a premiere group from the Korean National University of the Arts. The concert ended with a performance of "Soul's Echo" by Jiri Pavlica and the Hradistan Dulcimer Band, a group from the Czech Republic that seeks to preserve the traditional folk music of South Moravia, a region that was battered in the two world wars.

The World Festival of Sacred Music is held every three years by the Foundation for World Arts, the UCLA Center for Intercultural Performance, and EarthWays Foundation. It began in 1999 and is run by a small staff and seventy volunteers. Organizers accept no corporate funding, seeking instead contributions from foundations and individual donors. "We are taking a lot of chances because this is not mainstream; this is not what people are used to," Kishore Ganapati said.

Events continue through Oct. 2 and, while most performances are free, some venues sell tickets for up to $75.

UCLA International Institute