The Songs of the Spirit concert series was presented from 2005 through 2008 at the following venues: The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (New York City), The Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (North Adams, MA), The Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center (Great Barrington, MA), The Nazareth College Arts Center (Rochester, NY), St. Mary's Church (Oswego, NY), The Broome County Forum Theatre (Binghamton, NY), The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (Troy/Albany, NY), The Paramount Center for the Arts (Peekskill, NY).


Hugh Masekela epitomizes the Songs of the Spirit goal of promoting understanding and tolerance through music and the arts. A trumpet player who learned his instrument under the brutality of the Apartheid state of South Africa, Masekela’s musical language has over the years encompassed the street songs, church songs, migrant labor work songs, political protest songs and the sounds of the wide cross-section of ethnic culture that South Africa possesses. Intertwined with his musical roots are the vivid portraits of the struggles and the sorrows, the joys and passions of his country. Over the years, Masekela has recorded chart-topping singles such as his 1968 #1 hit “Grazin’ in the Grass,” toured with Paul Simon in support of the highly critically acclaimed 1986 album Graceland (Warner Brothers), and in 1987 wrote “Bring Him Back Home,” which became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. Consequently, the vibrant sounds of his trumpet and flugelhorn solos have left an indelible mark not only music but on history itself.

Hailed as the “Mother Empress of Folk and Blues” by the The New York Times and one of the 20th century’s most influential artists by many, Odetta was anointed the “Queen of American Folk Music” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1961.   Beginning in 1949, her solo career had a substantial influence on the careers of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and other luminaries. Upon hearing Odetta’s 1956 release, Odetta sings Ballads and Blues (Rykodisc/Tradition), Dylan, in a 1978 Playboy interview, remarked, “I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar.” In 1999, Odetta was presented with the National Endowment for the Arts’ Medal of the Arts & Humanities by President Clinton, and in 2004 was honored at the Kennedy Center in Washington with the Visionary Award.  Odetta's most recent album of spirituals is "Gonna Let it Shine."     

CRAIG S. HARRIS, Songs of the Spirit Musical Director
When Craig Harris exploded onto the jazz scene in 1976, he brought the entire history of the jazz trombone with him. From the growling gutbucket intensity of early New Orleans music through the refined, articulate improvisation of the modern era and into the confrontational expressionism of the 60’s avant-garde, Harris handled the total vernacular the way a skilled orator utilizes the spoken word. But the contemporary music world quickly realized that his talents went far beyond his superb skills as a trombonist. While he performed with a veritable “who’s who” of progressive jazz’s most important figures – including Sun Ra, Sam Rivers, Jaki Byard, and Cecil Taylor – his own projects displayed both a unique sense of concept and a total command of the sweeping expanse of African-American musical expression. It is those two qualities that have dominated Harris’ past 15 years of activity, bringing him far beyond the confines of the jazz world and into the sphere of multimedia and performance art as a composer, performer, conceptualist, curator and artistic director.

Frank London (trumpet/keyboards) and Lorin Sklamberg (lead vocals/accordion/guitar/piano) are members of The Klezmatics, whose music Time Out New York has described as “deeply compassionate as it is invigorating, as accessible as it is virtuosic.” Superstars of the klezmer world, The Klezmatics have taken a tradition steeped in Jewish spiritualism and Eastern European tradition and incorporated provocative themes such as social rights and anti-fundamentalism with eclectic musical influences such as gospel, punk, and Arab, African, and Balkan rhythms. Lorin’s “lithe and heartfelt” lead vocal has helped enable the group to become “sensitive interpreters of any artistic language they choose” (Billboard Magazine). Frank London recently completed two commissions for Carnegie Hall while The Klezmatics album “Wonder Wheel” (Jewish Music Group), with lyrics by Woody Guthrie, recently won the Grammy Award for 2007’s Best Contemporary World Music Album.

NYC-based Haale pays homage to 60's psychedelic rock and Persian/Sufi trance, creating a propulsive soundscape of electric guitars, percussion, and mystical lyrics. Haale has been recognized by CMJ for her "totally original songs". Haale’s distinctive style and incendiary live shows have led her to perform at a David Byrne-curated series at Carnegie Hall and to collaborate with Tchad Blake, Sean Lennon, and most extensively with producer and composer Dougie Bowne. The Open Secret Bookstore show celebrates the release of two EPs, Morning and Paratrooper, and features Matt Kilmer on percussion and Mike Gamble on electric guitar.

Joan Baez has described Tracy Grammer as a “brilliant artist” with a “mastery over the instruments she plays.” “One of the finest pure musicians anywhere in folkdom,” Tracy rose to acclaim working with the late singer/songwriter Dave Carter, known for his “postmodern, mythic American song craft “(Boston Globe).  Her much anticipated solo debut Flower of Avalon (Signature Sounds, 2005), was the number one most-played album on folk radio across the United States that year and swiftly expanded an already diverse and devoted following. Showcasing her emotive, warm and versatile voice in addition to featuring guest artists such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, the record showed up on "Best of" lists and listener polls around the country. Touring nationally with songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jim Henry and honoring the legacy of Dave Carter with the release of Seven Is The Number (Tracy Grammer Music, 2006) Tracy’s repertoire continues to evoke a sense of universal spirituality, infused by the images of many traditions.

The Shangilia Youth Choir of Kenya emerges from a unique child rescue center and residence named Shangilia (Swahili for “Rejoice”) in the heart of Nairobi’s Kangemi slum, formed in the early 1990’s by the late Kenyan film actress, Anne Wanjugu. Ms. Wanjugu, sharing what she knew best – a talent to perform – with destitute children living on the streets, found that through participation they gained confidence, skills, focus, the ability to work in teams and other socializing skills needed for productive lives. The residence she formed, initially with 40 children, now serves over 200 and incorporates the performing arts as central to its mission and daily curriculum for all.

The internationally touring choir is the vision of American stage director Lee Breuer, who together with musicians JD Steele of Minneapolis and Butch Heyward of New York City, have trained the group over the past two years. The choir’s previous international experience included performances at the Zanzibar Film Festival in 2005, and in Delphi, Greece, in 2006. The appearance on Songs of the Spirit 2007 is part of the US debut performance of this unique troupe, which serves as ambassador for destitute African children, of Wanjugu’s vision for the performing arts as a vehicle for social development, and of the victory of hope out of despair.

The music and dance of the Tibetan Monks of the Drepung Loseling Monastery is “a universal expression of the human subconscious” (The Washington Post). Renowned for their fascinating multiphonic chanting (zok-kay), chantmasters simultaneously intone three notes, thus each individually creating a complete chord; a most extraordinary vocal ability. The monks have shared the stage with Philip Glass, Paul Simon, Sheryl Crow, Patti Smith, Natalie Merchant and their collaborative skills will once again be on display at Songs of the Spirit 2007 as they fuse their ancient art form with the contemporary jazz of Craig Harris. Together with traditional temple instruments such as cymbals, bells, drums, long horn trumpets, and high horns, their “remarkable” repertoire of masked dances invokes a sense of “sacred ecstasy” (The New York Times). Every year, a new group of monks will embark on tour as the preceding group returns home to the monastery to continue their vocation. All proceeds from their touring benefit the Tibetan refugee community.


Artists appearing in Songs of the Spirit December 7 performance at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts:

Invoking both Eastern and Western influences, Pakistani rock star Salman Ahmad combines burning, soaring electric guitar virtuosity with the traditional acoustic styles of Asia and beyond.  Founder of the multi-platinum-selling band, Junoon, Salman's music reflects a spiritual sensibility deeply rooted in Sufi Muslim tradition. A physician, U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS awareness, and tireless global activist for peace and social justice, Salman has been called “The Bono of the Muslim world.”

Composer, guitarist, producer, multi-genre collaborator and all-around musical renaissance man, Gary Lucas, was dubbed "Guitarist of 1000 Ideas" by The New York Times, "a true axe God" by Melody Maker and "the thinking man's guitar hero" by The New Yorker, Gary tours the world relentlessly both solo and with several different ensembles, including his longtime band Gods and Monsters, whose ranks once included the late great singer Jeff Buckley. Among his eclectic musical adventures are periodic appearances with his childhood hero, Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet), with whom he toured extensively for  more than 5 years.

With the release of Out From Behind The Glass, North Adams’s own guitarist/songwriter/vocalist, Jamie Choquette, finds a new outlet to explore his acoustic pop. In the style of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Duncan Sheik, Matt Nathanson and Barenaked Ladies, to name a few, he explores the art of crafting vocal hooks that dance around simple guitar lines.  Jamie’s Songs of the Spirit set will include traditional, spiritually-based music, original songs, and collaborations with Salman Ahmad and Gary Lucas.



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