Global sounds embrace the audience

11 May 2004

LOS ANGELES, United States — The throb of African drums and Caribbean rhythms. The croon of a classical violin and the sigh of its Chinese cousin, the erhu. The trill of a South American flute.

These sounds, often in thrilling combination, came during Embrace the World, a concert tour by Baha'i musicians.

The tour went from 15 April to 11 May 2004 and traveled to 10 states of the United States and also to British Columbia, Canada.

The musicians performed at 20 concerts at packed venues in major cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake City, and Houston, as well as in various smaller cities and towns in between.

Audiences from a wide range of religious and ethnic backgrounds responded with standing ovations, singalongs, and insistent requests for encores.

After each concert, the musicians slept on a bus as they were driven to the next venue -- they covered more than 8000 kilometers in 26 days.

Why take on the difficulty of such a demanding tour requiring the harmonizing of diverse musical styles, different instruments, and musicians from different cultures?

"The general purpose of the concerts was to share the Baha'i concept of the oneness of mankind -- and I feel that sense of oneness was felt deeply by all who attended the concerts," said KC Porter, a multi-Grammy award winning producer, songwriter, and keyboardist, who organized the concert series.

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Lin Cheng. Photo by Alistair Eagle.

"The spirit of unity was reflected not only in the music, but with the diversity that was represented on the stage, featuring artists and musical styles from around the globe," he said.

"The events also provided an opportunity for concertgoers to come together in a spirit of oneness."

Mr. Porter won a Grammy for his contribution to Carlos Santana's "Supernatural" -- named the album of the year in 2000 -- worked with popular music artist Ricky Martin, and was named producer of the year by the Latin Grammys in 2001.

Sharing the stage with Mr. Porter was Lin Cheng, a singer and erhu virtuoso whose albums have sold by the millions in China, and Iranian-born Farzad Khozein, a jazz-influenced classical violinist.

Also touring were Colombian singer Leonor Dely with her family's flute-and-percussion group, Millero Congo, and backing musicians from the United States and Scotland.

Baha'i communities and Baha'i college clubs promoted the concert and organized venues all along the path of the tour, often with the help of local organizations such as the local Community Race Relations Coalition in Waco, Texas.

Civic officials in several areas recognized the uplifting message of the events. Former Washington Governor Mike Lowry, the chief executive of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Michelle Sanidad, and the chairperson of the Duwamish Tribe, Cecile Hansen, attended the Seattle concert at the invitation of local Baha'is. In Scottsdale, Arizona, Mayor Mary Manross proclaimed May 11 "Embrace the World Day."

The concert won positive reviews, including by the executive director of the Arts Council in Lake County, California, Xian Yeagan:

"It was the integration of these styles in the hands of the masters that made the concert so moving," the review said.

"And that was what the concert was all about, embracing and unifying the world through art."

Local musicians also had the opportunity for exposure as opening acts for some of the concerts. They included hip-hop group Justice Leeg in the Los Angeles area, the Duwamish Tribe drumming group in Seattle, and a 100-piece choir, Getting Higher, in Vancouver.

Audience members of Chinese background in particular reacted warmly to Lin Cheng's interactive performances.

"Some of them had grown up [in China] with the songs of Lin Cheng on the radio and sang along with her," said Anne Perry, after a concert at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she is a faculty member.

As well as music, the concerts included presentations of selections from the Baha'i writings.

Question-and-answer sessions after each concert promoted understanding of the Baha'i Faith, and of why its teachings encouraged these musicians from such varied backgrounds to perform together.

(Contributed to by James Humphrey, editor, "The American Baha'i.")

(Photos by Alistair Eagle and Michael Frank.)