Every summer is a celebration of the familiar, of the familial — it’s the time of year for building and celebrating our own tribe. Friends gather around fire pits; families travel together, work together, get on each other’s nerves. Weddings celebrate and honor our closest ties. Summer is the fourth of July, and farmers markets, and community street festivals.
In contrast, fall is anchored in the tradition of branching out — of new experiences, and embracing the “other.” Fall is back-to-school, with new teachers, a new building or, at the college level, sometimes even a new state or country. It is the celebration of harvest-time, when we honor the largess that summer has provided by sharing and providing beyond our usual boundary lines. Fall is exploration of the unknown.
Fall is also the Landfall Festival.
Developed and programmed by Legion Arts, but overflowing the limits of that organization’s own venue, CSPS Hall, Landfall is perhaps the perfect fall festival. It’s hard to believe that this year marks only the ninth Landfall festival in Cedar Rapids. Despite still only being in the single digits of existence, this event has become one of the most enduring and endearing traditions that eastern Iowa has to offer. It’s impossible to imagine early fall without the explosion of international brilliance that Landfall brings.
Musicians from around the world will come to Cedar Rapids this Sept. 13–17 for the festival, making Landfall in various venues around the city, including CSPS Hall, the Cedar Rapids Public Library, Opus Concert Café and the NewBo City Market. Several groups focused on international music, but based in the U.S., are invited as well. (See the festival website for this year’s full schedule.) This radical embrace of variety and otherness is something that informs Legion Arts’ programming year-round; the festival is, perhaps, the distilled essence of those values.
Landfall performers run the gamut of musical styles, from folk to jazz to funk, all with the flavor and accent of the traditional music of their home. Highlights of this year’s offerings include Fémina, a trio of women from Argentina; Dhol Foundation, a performing group out of an Indian music school in London; Palenke Soultribe, a Colombian duo currently based in Los Angeles and Lăutari, a trio from Poland who exemplify the “gypsy jazz” style.
It is a disarming challenge, as someone who adores research, to find information on many of the artists performing at Landfall. In several cases, I found myself at the mercy of Google translate, or the rare English-language articles linked from their native-language Facebook pages. These are musicians who are successful fully outside of our purview; the creativity and wisdom of the festival curators is evident in each choice.
Dhol Foundation is the name of both a musical group and the school that sponsors them. In 1989, Johnny Kalsi, a renowned performer on the Indian dhol drum, formed the school in response to frequent requests to teach the instrument. The school quickly grew, and, in 2001, Kalsi and his students released their first album, Big Drum Small World. That title is the crux of their aesthetic — Kalsi, who can easily be called a student of the world himself, with additional credits that include Afro Celt Sound System, Imagined Village and Trans-global Underground, has infused his students and Dhol Foundation with a passion for music beyond their roots in traditional Punjab Bhaṅgṛā music.
Lăutari, a trio from Poland who exemplify the “gypsy jazz” style
Dhol Foundation, a performing group out of an Indian music school in London
Fémina, a trio of women from Argentina
Argentina’s Fémina is Clara Miglioli, Sofia Trucco and Clara Trucco, three women from Patagonia (currently based in Buenos Aires). They present a delightful fusion of sounds and genres that defies simple description. Layering rap and song over a wide variety of styles, they have a siren’s aesthetic, finding a way to draw you in, no matter your musical preferences. Their songs draw from the rhythms and traditions of cumbia, candombe, bolero, chacarera, funk, reggae and many more. Blues rock guitar riffs dance around salsa rhythms with a hip hop overlay in ways that seem muddy on paper, but strike like an arrow when heard.
The trio released their first album, Deshice de mi, in 2011 — a striking intro onto the scene. It begins with a deep male voice delivering a 40 second intro that wouldn’t be out of place leading off a metal record, and then drops abruptly into an entrancing guitar line from Sofia Trucco that leads into a six minute song (“Mi eje”) that covers at least half a dozen styles. With track three, “Los senos,” you would swear that you were listening to yet another band already, if not for the familiar voices drawing you through. There is infinite variety in the work of Fémina, tied together with a consistent ingenuity and wild flair.
Lăutari, another trio, takes its name from the plural of lăutar, a Romani word for members of a clan of professional musicians. Maciej Filipczuk (fiddle), Jacek Hałas (piano, accordion) and Michał Żak (clarinet, flute, shawm, soprano sax) hew enthusiastically to the gypsy aesthetic that their name implies, exploring and perfecting the rhythms, tunings and stylings of their musical forebearers with an avant-garde overlay that draws already rich folk melodies into a new, modern realm.
They reunited last year, after a seven-year hiatus, releasing Vol. 67, a live recording entirely of music from their native Poland. The title is a reference to the work of Polish ethnographer Oskar Kolberg, who collected traditions, histories, folklore, games, rituals and music of Poland in a multi-volume opus called Lud. Volume 67 of that work consisted of transcriptions, for piano, of folk tunes, which Lăutari arranged for its ensemble (supplemented by guest musicians Marcin Pospieszalski and Marcin Lamch, double bass). By tying together jazz with traditional Romanian lăutărească music, Lăutari creates an indelible fusion of two of the strongest improvisational styles.
Another fusion of styles can be found in Palenke Soultribe, a live electronic ensemble made up of founders producer/bassist Juan Diego Borda and keyboardist/producer Andres “Popa” Erazo, who began working together in 2001 in Colombia. The pair push the envelope both of the Afro-Colombian music that roots them and the electronic music they combine with it. Although Erazo and Borda are the core of the group, the concept of “Soultribe” is no misnomer, as they draw new artists into their collaborations regularly.
The breadth of influences, histories and cultures in just these few artists is phenomenal, and yet only the tip of the iceberg. The Landfall festival promises all this and more, and is poised to deliver yet another year of fresh fall sounds and the opportunity to explore the world. You can catch Palenke Soultribe, along with Federspiel and Maya Kamaty, for free on Saturday, Sept. 17, 12–6 p.m. at the outdoor stage at NewBo City Market. All other events are donation at the door. Keep an eye on legionarts.org for additional concerts and pop-up events. As always, this is an opportunity not to be missed.