Thursday, July 2, 2009

World-weary Nation Beat refuses to be boxed in

Nation Beat

By Meredith Deliso

A couple of years ago, Nation Beat, a Brooklyn-based band inspired by Brazilian music, were invited to play at a world music festival. When the organizers asked them not to play any of their English-language songs, the reason why was: it’s a world music festival.

“Our response was, well isn’t America a part of the world?” remembers Scott Kettner, the percussionist for and founder of the band. “It was a big controversy. They finally folded and let us play what we play.”

The incident has stayed on Kettner’s mind ever since, and, while so resonantly played out on stage at the festival, he encounters every day as a musician, and he’s not comfortable with it.

“We have a beef with that whole world music category,” says Kettner, whose own band blends Brazilian maracatu, forro, coco, and ciranda rhythms with American rock, pop, country, bluegrass, and funk.

For one, he says, “World music is a generic term that is degrading towards the cultures where the music comes from. If you go to Africa, they don’t call their music world music. If you go to Brazil, they don’t call it world music. It’s got a name and a style and a culture that’s attached to it.”

On the other hand, you also have a new generation of musicians adopting different styles of music while remaining true to their roots and finding a common ground.

So on July 11, he’s producing an outdoor music festival at the Bklyn Yard along the Gowanus Canal, inviting local bands that, like his own, fuse international music with American styles and confuses notions of “world music.”

Among those playing at the festival, fittingly called “Is America Part of the World?”, include Nation Beat, as well as Forró In the Dark, who sing in English and Portuguese, Red Baraat Festival, who blend North Indian rhythm Bhangra with brass funk, dhol, percussion, horns and traditional Punjabi songs, and DJ Nickodemus, who spins funk, jazz, hip-hop, house and dub for a urban and regional sound.

As the lineup proves, the concert isn’t so much a question, as a statement to the conventions that define the world music category, and which these, and many other bands nationwide, defy.

“These bands are not ‘traditional’ or ‘authentic’ in the sense of how the industry defines these terms. They cannot be put into a box of just one genre” says Kettner. “In fact, these groups break all of the traditional concepts of genre and have become marginalized by the industry because there doesn’t yet exist a box to fit us into. Each band has embraced its international influence but has not abandoned its American backgrounds.”

“Is America Part of the World?” is July 11 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tickets are $18, with free admission for children. Bklyn Yard is located at 388-400 Carroll St.


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