A free noon concert series co-presented by the American Folklife Center and the Music Division at the Library of Congress in cooperation with the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. All concerts are in the Coolidge Auditorium (located on the Ground Floor of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress). NO TICKETS REQUIRED.
Balla Kouyaté is a griot and virtuoso player of the balaphon, the ancient West African ancestor of the xylophone. Played with mallets, the balaphon is made up of wood slats of varying lengths. Underneath, two rows of calabash gourds serve as natural amplifiers.
To say that Kouyaté was born into a musical family is an understatement. His family lineage goes back over 800 years to Balla Faséké, the first of an unbroken line of djelis, or griots, in the Kouyaté clan. The members of this family are regarded as the original praise-singers of the Malinké people, one of the ethnic groups found across much of West Africa. Djelis are the oral historians, musicians and performers who keep alive and celebrate the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea and other West African countries. Kouyaté frequently performs traditional music at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond, and also leads the fusion group World Vision. He often accompanies kora master Mamadou Diabate, 2009 Grammy winner in Traditional World Music, and in 2004 joined NEA National Heritage Fellow Sidiki Cond Kouyaté for a month-long residency at Carnegie Hall. In 2010, Balla Kouyaté was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in the Traditional Arts.
The New North Carolina Ramblers is an old-time string band whose four musicians span almost three generations. The band was formed in the late 1960s by Kinney and Doug Rorrer, nephews of Charlie Poole and Posey Rorer, who were the original North Carolina Ramblers in the 1920s. Over the years, the New North Carolina Ramblers have featured many different local old-time musicians, but Kinney Rorrer has remained with the group since its genesis. Today, the band consists of Kinney, Kirk Sutphin, Darren Moore, and Jeremy Stephens. Kinney plays the banjo in the old-time three-finger picking style of Charlie Poole, and Kirk Sutphin can play the fiddle with same graceful touch that Posey Rorer had. They perform songs and tunes from the repertoire of Charlie Poole, and from many other old time artists. Darren Moore and Jeremy Stephens add their own take on classic Carter Family material. The New North Carolina Ramblers offer a variety of old time styles with a touch of down-home comedy.
Marce Lacouture grew up in Texas and Louisiana. She began singing professionally in Austin folk and rock bands, and in 1984 formed a duo with legendary singer-songwriter Butch Hancock. Together they recorded two collaborative albums, Yella Rose and Cause of the Cactus, and shared stages with such friends as Lyle Lovett, Lucinda Williams, Nanci Griffith, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. In the 1980s, Marce headed to Louisiana to explore her Cajun heritage. Her search led to a years-long apprenticeship with traditional Louisiana French ballad singers Lula Landry and Inez Catalon. Marce's ability to bring alive the ancient ballads and home traditions of Louisiana makes her a sought-after performer and teacher. Marce's first solo recording, La Joie Cadienne, (Cajun Joy), is a loving tribute to her mentors. [Photo by Philip Gould]
Marce will be joined at this concert by David Greely and Kristi Guillory. Greely, a former apprentice of the legendary fiddle master Dewey Balfa, is a Cajun French songwriter, fiddler, singer, and researcher of nearly forgotten tunes, ballads, and stories. He has also been active in campaigns to preserve the Cajun French language and archival Cajun recordings. In 2004, he received an “Artist Fellowship Award in Folklife” by the Louisiana Division of the Arts. David is a founding member of the world-renowned Cajun group, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, which received its third nomination for a Grammy award in 2008, its 20th Anniversary year. He has contributed extensively to the Mamou Playboys repertoire and style during that time, bringing his childhood background in gospel harmony singing to create their signature sound, composing many songs which have gone on to become standards of Cajun repertoire, and spending many hours in the archives trolling for musical treasure. His 2009 solo CD, introducing his new acoustic format, is called "Sud du sud/South of the South." Guillory grew up watching her guitarist grandfather, Jesse Duhon, who played with Octa Clark and the Dixie Ramblers during the 1930s. She found the accordion and began playing Cajun music when she was 10 years old. A couple of years later, she formed a band, Reveille, with other area young musicians. After graduating high school, Guillory took time off from music to finish her Francophone Studies degree and then again to complete an M.A. in Folklore. She came out of retirement to form the group Bonsoir Catin, with whom she currently performs.
Amuma Says No is among the best-known bands playing Basque music in America today. The band brings together the best of traditional trikitixa—a duo of accordion and tambourine–with a modern rhythm section and songs sung in the Basque language, Euskara. Based in Boise, Idaho, home of the largest community of Basques outside their home provinces along the French and Spanish Pyrenees, "ASN" have brought their energetic, exciting and contemporary arrangements of Basque music to Basque festivals and events throughout the west, including Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Jill Aldape, Dan Ansotegui, Sean Uranga Aucutt and Spencer Basterrechea Martin, the founders, are second and third generation Americans. They grew up dancing with the Oinkari Basque Dancers and listening to Basque artists like Jimmy Jausoro and Domingo Ansotegui. Joined in the current lineup by Rod Wray and Micah Deffries, they present a timeless traditional repertory with a touch of twenty-first century rock, pop and jazz.
Steve Meisner is a multi-talented musician, composer and arranger, and a leading figure in American Polka music. He began playing the accordion at the age of five with his father, the late Verne Meisner, who had a successful music career for over fifty years. Since then, he has brought his brand of traditional American polka into the 21st century with a fresh spark and swing, while retaining the music’s roots. He has played with the nation’s top accordionists, including Myron Floren, Frank Yankovic, and Joey Miskulin. He performs nationally and internationally, averaging two hundred performances a year; venues have included the Lawrence Welk Theater in Branson, Missouri, and the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Steve has received numerous awards and nominations, including inductions to the Ironworld Polka Hall of Fame and the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame.
At the core of Guatemala’s musical traditions is the marimba, an instrument with West African roots that can be found throughout northern Central America and southern Mexico. The marimba is Guatemala's official national instrument, and government ordinances require broadcasting of marimba music on a daily basis. The contemporary marimba’s construction is similar to that of the xylophone. Its key arrangement resembles that of a piano, with the “black keys” set above and behind the “white keys.” Some of the larger marimbas may be played by as many as eight musicians, each using two or more rubber-tipped mallets. On early marimbas, each key has its own gourd resonator underneath. On more modern instruments, these gourd resonators have been replaced with tubes made of wood, metal or even PVC. The tubes on a Guatemalan marimba have a tiny hole at the bottom, over which a piece of intestinal membrane or skin is stretched. When a key is struck, the membrane makes a loud buzzing sound while the resonator amplifies the key’s tone.
Marimba Linda Xelajú is family group that honors both tradition and innovation in its interpretation of the Guatemalan marimba. In Guatemala, playing the marimba has traditionally been a male pursuit. But Robert Girón has chosen to share his love and knowledge of the marimba with his daughters as well as his son, and the cherished music of his homeland today continues within a new context and community. In 1995, Girón had a beautifully ornate marimba hand-built in Guatemala by Nojobel Salazar, and brought it to the United States. The whole family plays this fine instrument at once. Robert Sr. and his son Robert play treble. His daughters Beverly and Jennifer play melody and harmony. Marimba Linda Xelajú has performed extensively throughout the Washington D.C. area venues including the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the Museum of the American Indian and at the National Zoo. [Photo by Jeff Malet]
The Not Too Bad Bluegrass Band formed in 1987, playing local venues around Bloomington, Indiana. Original members included Jeff White, who went on to play with superstars like Alison Krauss and Vince Gill; singer-songwriter Bob Lucas; and Lisa Germano, who later played fiddle with John Mellencamp's band. The current members have their own musical history. Brian Lappin played with bluegrass legends Jimmy Martin and Earl Taylor, and the bands The Ragin’ Texans and The Crawdads. His tasteful banjo playing reflects the solid influences of Earle Scruggs and J.D. Crowe. Doug Harden has played mandolin since 1969. His early years were spent at the old Bean Blossom Jamboree barn, and in the Brown County Band. Doug has also spent time in the original Kentucky Ramblers and the band Pine Mountain. Greg Norman started at a local jam session and later joined the Off the Line bluegrass band and singer-songwriter Janne Henshaw’s band. Kent Todd was trained in classical violin, and was steered toward bluegrass by his father Scott, also a bluegrass musician; he has played with Bill Grant and Dehila Belle, Michael Cleveland and the Blue Hollow Band, Gary Brewer and the Kentucky Ramblers, and currently is also a member of the Troubled Waters Band. The youngest member of the NTBBB, Brady Stogdill, is a member of the original International Bluegrass Music Association’s Young Acoustic All Stars; his father Dean was a great banjo player, and he has learned to play almost anything with strings on it.
Of Navajo-Ute heritage, R. Carlos Nakai is the world’s best known performer of Native American flute music. He began his musical studies on the trumpet, but a car accident ruined his embouchure. He was given a traditional cedar flute as a gift and challenged to master it, which led to his current path. Nakai views his cultural heritage not only as a source and inspiration, but also as a dynamic continuum of natural change and adaptation, subject to the artist’s expressive needs. Nakai’s first album, Changes, was released in 1983, and since then he has released over thirty-five albums. He gives educational workshops and residencies, and has appeared as a soloist throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan. He has worked with Grammy-winning flutist Paul Horn, guitarist William Eaton, and composer James DeMars, among many others. The famed American choreographer Martha Graham used Nakai's second album, Cycles, in her work Night Chant. Nakai also contributed music to the major motion pictures New World and Geronimo.
The McIntosh County Shouters is a ten-member Gullah-Geechee group that began performing professionally in 1980. They have educated and entertained audiences around the United States with the “ring shout,” a compelling fusion of counterclockwise dance-like movement, call-and-response singing, and percussion consisting of hand claps and a stick beating the rhythm on a wooden floor. African in its origins, the ring shout affirms oneness with the Spirit and ancestors as well as community cohesiveness. The ring shout was first described in detail during the Civil War by outside observers in coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia. Its practice continued well into the 20th Century, even as its influence was resounding in later forms like spiritual, jubilee, gospel and jazz. By the late 20th century, the ring shout itself was presumed to have died out until its rediscovery in McIntosh County in 1980; thus, the beginning of the McIntosh County Shouters. The group was awarded the NEA National Heritage Fellowship in 1993, and were selected as Producers of Distinction and Founding Members of the “Georgia Made Georgia Grown Program,” in 2009. Their performances include the National Black Arts Festival, of Smithsonian Folklife Festival, World Music Institute, and Sound Legacies at Emory University. The group has been featured in magazines and documentaries, including HBO’s Unchained Memories.
Blanch Sockabasin and Wayne Newell are both tradition bearers and members of the Passamaquoddy Tribe.
Blanch Sockabasin teaches Native music, drumming, singing and dancing at the Indian Township School in eastern Maine. She also makes Native baskets and leather crafts. Her first love is teaching all that she can about Passamaquoddy culture and language. She was recently honored by the Maine State Legislature for her efforts in preserving the Passamaquoddy way of life. She is deeply committed to passing on the rich Passamaquoddy culture to the children of her Tribe.
Wayne Newell was born at Sipayik (Pleasant Point) Reservation in eastern Maine. Wayne is a storyteller, and a singer of Passamaquoddy and other Native music. He speaks the Passamaquoddy language fluently, and utilizes English as his second language. Educated at the local schools, he eventually went on to earn his Masters degree in the field of education from Harvard University. Wayne’s first love is the preservation of the Passamaquoddy language. In 1971, he directed the first bilingual and bicultural education program for the Passamaquoddy Tribe. This program included the introduction of a writing system for the Passamaquoddy language. He has authored and co-authored over forty reading books written in the Passamaquoddy/Maliseet language.
Photo provided by the Abbe Museum of Maine's Native American heritage, Bar Harbor, Maine
As poets, songwriters and horsemen, Wylie Gustafson and Paul Zarzyski have pursued their writing and riding passions for over 35 years. Wylie Gustafson’s performing career began in his teens. His break came when his band, Wylie & The Wild West, appeared on Ronnie Mack’s Barn Dance at The Palomino Club in North Hollywood, which helped them secure a record deal. That done, he moved to Dusty, Washington, where he established the Cross Three Quarter Horse Ranch. Wylie remains a full-time cutting horse trainer and competitor, as well as a full-time musician. He has recorded over fifteen albums, and has played thousands of venues around the world, including more than fifty appearances on The Grand Ole Opry. He has also been a guest on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion. Paul Zarzyski has spent fifteen seasons as a bareback bronco rider on the amateur, pro, and senior circuits. This experience has infused his poetry with rodeo images and lingo. He is the recipient of the 2005 Montana Governor’s Arts Award for Literature. His books have won a Western Heritage award for poetry from The National Cowboy Hall of Fame, and a Spur Award from The Western Writers of America. In addition to his eight collections of printed work, he has recorded four spoken-word CDs. In 1987, he was invited to the third annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, where he’s performed every year since, and where he crossed trails with Wylie. Shortly thereafter, their co-written songs began to appear on Wylie’s albums. In the fall of 2008, they joined Nashville producer John Carter Cash in his Cash Cabin Studio to record the CD HANG-n-RATTLE! According to Mark Bedor of American Cowboy magazine, they’re “like Lennon and McCartney in cowboy hats.”
Barbara Lynn is a rhythm and blues singer and left-handed guitarist from Texas. In the 1950s, inspired by blues artists Guitar Slim and Jimmy Reed, and pop acts Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee, she created an all-female band, Bobbie Lynn and Her Idols. Her first single "You'll Lose a Good Thing" was a #1 R&B hit and a Top 10 pop hit in 1962, and was later a country hit for Freddy Fender. Soon Lynn was touring with such soul music greats as Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, Dionne Warwick, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Ike and Tina Turner, and The Temptations. She appeared at the Apollo Theatre and twice on American Bandstand, and her song, "Oh Baby (We've Got a Good Thing Goin')” was recorded by The Rolling Stones. Rolling Stone's David Fricke has noted that Lynn continues to display “undiminished grace and poise, pouring a lifetime of blues and wisdom into her delivery.”
Around 1900, a Norwegian immigrant named Bernt Berntson Bradskerud purchased a violin in a northern Wisconsin logging camp and gave it to his ten-year-old son, Bennie. Bennie began playing learning Scandinavian folk tunes from fiddlers in his rural Wisconsin immigrant community, especially his musical uncle and cousins. For the next thirty years, Bennie played all night long at house parties and community dances that featured Scandinavian waltzes, schottisches, and square dances. These tunes became the backbone of the repertoire for the Berntsons. In the 1930s, Bennie Berntson’s son Maurice and daughter Eleanore joined the family music circle. Eleanore’s pump organ, playing melodies as well as chording, blended with the violins to produce a strikingly warm, rich sound. Maurice further enhanced the mix by playing the violin melodies on the guitar. In the 1960s, a second guitar was brought into the musical picture, when Eleanore’s son Karl began playing the family music. Today, the Berntsons are alive and well, and heading into their second century of music-making. The band will include Eleanore Berntson, Karl Berntson, Andrea Hoag, Loretta Kelley, and Charlie Pilzer.