The World Comes to Albuquerque
Thirteen Acts. Five Continents. Two Men.
It's easy to get carried away when you talk to Tom Frouge and Neal Copperman. The two music promoters are easygoing, friendly and focused. They're also very big on ideas. So big, in fact, that they had the audacity to conceive, plan and execute the biggest "world music" event ever to grace an Albuquerque stage—all in the span of just nine months. It's an amazing feat. Still, organizing Globalquerque almost sounds easy once you get talking to them.
Tom Frouge (pronounced "rouge") is a longtime musician whose life and career have always revolved around music. His impressive résumé includes work with some of the biggest record companies in Celtic and world music, including Green Linnet, Triloka and Little Dog Records. Tom is also a founding member of the Americana Music Association (AMA), and serves on several internationally recognized music committees.
On the other end of the spectrum, Neal Copperman began his career in music almost by accident, organizing free, house-based concerts in and around Albuquerque since the summer of 2000. Since then Neal has built a name for himself in New Mexico as the principal organizer of AMP and Bosque House concerts, which produce some of the state's premier world, folk, acoustic and Americana concerts.
On the evening of September 6, Globalquerque will make its international debut at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, filling the center's three performance spaces with 13 musical groups from as far south as Argentina and as far west as Africa. Tickets for the event cost $25 in advance and $30 at the door, and are available through the National Hispanic Cultural Center box office (724-4771) and Ticketmaster. Log on to abqmusic.com for more details about the scheduled bands and other affiliated AMP and Bosque House events.
So how did you two hook up? Was it for this project or have you guys worked together before?
Neal—We worked together before. It was actually several years ago, at the 50th AMP House Concert celebration. We ended up bringing in a Latvian band called Elshie, and Tom was involved with their booking here in the States. That was the first time.
Tom—I came into town the first time about a year later that to meet with Neal and talk with him about the music of Albuquerque. Neal is definitely one of the premier promoters in Albuquerque. Which is why he was the one I turned to when Globalquerque first came up.
When was that? Where did the idea first come from?
Tom—We came up with the idea this past January at an event called Globalfest in New York. Leigh Ann Hahn, who's the program director for Grand Performances [the largest performing arts non-profit in Southern California] in Los Angeles, and we were standing there and she said to me, "What do you think about doing something like this in Albuquerque?" And I said, "I think that's a great idea!" We had no idea we could actually replicate what Globalfest was doing. But Leigh Ann and I started watching out for bands and I immediately thought of Neal. When we first talked to him, Neal came in as being our "on-the-ground" person. Less then 24 hours later he had to be a partner, because it was so obvious that he got the idea completely. Leigh Ann dropped back to the talent coordination side of things, and Neal and I became the producers.
So you've only been working on this for nine months?
Tom—The idea was conceived in January, but we really didn't start moving on it until March.
Tom—We didn't even confirm the first band until April.
And you've been working day and night ever since?
Tom—Yeah. You know, it's been a real team effort, including Leigh Ann.
Neal—I think a lot of it came from a great national and international network, from Tom and Leigh Ann in particular. They would just put out their feelers and stuff started to trickle in right off the bat. Like any community, the world music community isn't that huge, even though it's global.
Tom—And they're all movers and shakers.
Neal—Everybody kind of knows each other, and once word started to get out, people started contacting us, and we went from there.
Tom—Still, it's amazing that we were able to create something like Globalquerque on such short notice. I mean, think about it. We're bringing 13 acts from around the world in less then six months!
How did you manage to do that?
Tom—Well, there are several reasons we were able to pull it off. One was that the Western Arts Conference Alliance [a national conference of arts professionals] is here this year [September 6 through 10]. The other is that the people of Albuquerque seem so ready for something like this.
And how did the National Hispanic Cultural Center become involved?
Neal—Tom actually went to them before he came to me, by about three hours.
Tom—I wanted to make sure I had a venue.
Neal—They were immediately into the idea. They've been stupendous to work with, and we couldn't have done it without them. It's really the ideal place for this.
Why do you think they were so responsive to the idea of hosting Globalquerque?
Tom—I think it's just a great idea for the city in general. And I think they saw the benefits from the other side. You know, we're really going to showcase the center to a whole different audience, to people who may have never thought of going there before.
Neal—And it matches their whole mission—to highlight Hispanic cultural elements, which really covers the vast majority of the world. So it's a perfect complement to what they were already doing.
I was really surprised that in your lineup you have quite a bit of talent from New Mexico. You could have very easily said, "Let's go out into the farthest reaches of the world," while turning your back on what's happening here.
Neal—That's part of our whole initiative in doing this.
Tom—We think Globalquerque very nicely represents what Albuquerque—and New Mexico in general—are really all about. We are trying to represent New Mexico's traditions and also its future—bringing artists in that represent some of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in Albuquerque, without turning our backs on its traditions.
So what does a group like Los Reyes de Albuquerque have to do with world music?
Tom—Outside of Louisiana, there is no state in this country that has a cultural identity as deeply rooted as New Mexico, and it's all because of this quadra-cultural thing that goes on here—there's Spanish, Mexican, Native American and Anglo. We think that is world music. If you take that music outside of North America, it's called world music. So, we want to represent those cultures every year that we do this.
What's the plan for year two? Do you have one yet?
Tom—First off, we're moving it to a weekend.
Neal—We won't always do it on a Tuesday!
Tom—We've always seen Globalquerque as not just a local event, but a destination event. So next year, we're moving it to two days and we're adding day programming. There's going to be children's programming, educational workshops and a foreign film curated by another New Mexico organization called Journeys In Film, which creates curricula to teach cross-cultural understanding to middle school kids. And then at night will be the music and dance, just like now. We're already talking to acts for 2006.
Let's talk about why this is happening in Albuquerque and not, say, Santa Fe or Taos.
Tom—Here's my theory on that—I think the "cultural creatives" here in Albuquerque have been trained by Santa Fe to look to Santa Fe. I think Globalquerque is, in some ways, throwing down the gauntlet, saying "you don't have to go to Santa Fe. As a matter of fact, Santa Fe is coming here." And people are starting to realize that this center [The NHCC] is a world-class performance center.
Neal—It's a world class museum, too. I think it's possibly the only world-class museum in the state of New Mexico.
Tom—We're saying, "Look, you're coming south now." I think we're going to prove that point. These bands are not coming to Santa Fe. Not one of these bands are playing there.
So why is this event important right now, for those of us living here in Albuqueruque?
Tom—I think it's important for us as people in general to look at other cultures, to understand them.
Neal—Especially with the way we're looking at the world right now, it's kind of nice to look at them with a little more of an open mind. For example, we have musicians from Iraq and Iran performing here.
The Iraqi musician who's performing [Rahim AlHaj] is actually an expatriot who lives in Albuquerque now, right?
Neal—Right, which is another great tie-in. Not only do we have the New Mexico Hispanic, the Native American and the flamenco traditions, but we also have the immigrant tradition. Rahim was born and raised in Baghdad and he's a world-class musician—not the kind that you associate with New Mexico per se, but he's certainly within the same caliber. It creates a nice bridge between the New Mexico traditions and the world traditions.
Tom—And what's happening to New Mexico as we change culturally. I do think that there is a subtle sociopolitical statement here, and I think people are hungry for this kind of diversity.
What's really distinctive about all of these acts is that they all seem to be globally conscious from within their own cultural niches.
Tom—They aren't field recordings, that's for sure.
Yeah, and they're either taking cues from other cultures or they're looking to their own traditional cultural aspects and blending them with what's happening today.
Tom—Well, that's it. Traditional music, by definition, is evolutionary. People cross borders and music is never that pure. There isn't really "traditional music," though some are more traditional than others. Obviously, Black Eagle and Fula Flute are more traditional.
Neal—But Fula Flute has a stand-up bass player in it!
Tom—And Marta Gomez, she started out as a Colombian singer, but her band is all Argentine. So now they're doing this pan-Latin thing. Plus, Marta went to Berklee, so she's using jazz improvisation in her songs. And I think The Bills are really going to be a surprise to people.
They're Canadian, right?
Neal—Yeah. And that also fits into the sort of international view of the globe because, for many people in the United States, global music is all the music that's not American.
Tom— ... or not Anglo.
Neal—You're right. You don't really think of British music as world music.
Tom—We have a pretty big tent-view of world music. One of the things that we'll look at as Globalquerque grows in the future is that we are always going to include North American roots. The Bills are Canadian, and they're a part of that idea this year.
Neal—And then we have wackos like NoJazz from Paris performing, too.
I was listening to them on the CD you gave me, and I definitely wasn't thinking "jazz music."
Neal—Right; so, "NoJazz." ...
Exactly. But I guess that's in keeping with the spirit of this whole discussion. These bands are all asking a lot of cool questions—"what's jazz?" for example. And I think you guys are [asking good questions] too in presenting them this way.
Neal—Well, we hope so.
Tom—And by the way, I've seen some of these bands and they're great. We purposely put the groove-heavy acts on the outdoor stage, and, to use the old adage, "If you ain't dancing, you ain't got no hips." It's that simple. Whether it's Markus James' blues-meets-Mali sway, to NoJazz to Majek's Bob Marley-meets-Fela Kuti—we've got some amazing live acts.
And it's a deal, if I can say so. Usually an event like this runs in the $50 to $150 ticket range. They're these big, expensive affairs that seem to bar whole sections of the city from even going.
Tom—We actually had discussions about that, and that's one of the things that we were very concerned about. We did not want to isolate any segment of New Mexico's population because of cost.
Neal—So the ticket price of Globalquerque works out to less than $2 a band.
Tom—And every year it's going to be the same way, because this is a cultural event. Once you're in and you've entered from the gate outside, the world is right there. The world comes to Albuquerque.