The Landfall Festival 2010 | World Music Comes to Cedar Rapids’ Doorstep

Fusion band Nation Beat is one of many groups that will travel from all corners of the globe for the Landfall Festival September 22-25, 2010, in downtown Cedar Rapids.

ONE NORMALLY DOES not think of Cedar Rapids as the place one arrives at after a long sea journey, but John Herbert, Executive Director of Legion Arts, chose the name Landfall Festival of World Music for his group’s international celebration for that very reason.

 “The term ‘landfall’ evokes the sense of excitement and adventure that one feels after an extended trip,” Herbert says. “We might be in the middle of the continent, but all of our artists travel by some conveyance to get here.”

“And besides,” Herbert continues, “we promise that our audiences will experience something new that they could normally get only by voyaging to other places. They will get all of the thrills without having to leave Iowa.”

All Concerts are Free!

The third annual Landfall Festival of World Music will take place in and around Greene Square Park in downtown Cedar Rapids from September 22 to 25. The four-day event will be held on two stages, with three or more acts performing each day, mostly outdoors at the park itself and indoors at the adjacent First Presbyterian Church.

All of the events are free. Legion Arts received major support from a number of benefactors, including Rockwell Collins, Iowa Arts Council, National Endowment of the Arts, National Performance Network, and the City of Cedar Rapids. Herbert notes that these are all family friendly events with no alcohol sold.

So far, this year’s festival tentatively includes exotic talents from beyond our nation’s borders. The program features the a capella male vocal quartet Barbara Furtuna from Corsica, the seven-piece Colombian joropo music and dance band Cimarrón, the acoustic instrumentalists Kenge Kenge from Kenya, Romania’s gypsy brass band Mahala Rai Banda, the Neapolitan folk rock chanteuse Pietra Montecorvino, the explosive North Indian group Red Baraat, East London’s mostly acoustic jazz act the Portico Quartet, and the vibrant folk artists Zedashe from the Soviet Republic of Georgia.

And this does not even include American bands with international connections such as Brooklyn, New York via Brazil’s Nation Beat, and Bloomington, Indiana-based Middle Eastern/North African band Salaam. In addition, Herbert says there will be a local angle to this year’s fest, too. The University of Iowa’s Afro-Cuban Drum and Dance Ensemble and Pan American Steel Band, as well as the Iowa-based Turkish American group, are on the provisional line-up.

A Feat of Cooperation

While Herbert professes that he looks forward to all the acts equally, he does seem most enthusiastic when referring to the Colombian band Cimarrón and Kenya’s Kenge Kenge, perhaps because these are among the most energetic acts on the schedule. Although Herbert hopes all of the acts show up, he knows the difficulty of international travel for artists these days. Besides the technical difficulties involved, there are also political issues, visa concerns, and other factors that could cause acts not to arrive. With more than a dozen acts performing during the four-day event, he understands that anything could happen. For the definitive list of who will be playing when, consult the Legion Arts website (www.legionarts .org), as the roster of performers may change.

The Landfall Festival of World Music is but one of a consortium of international fetes that occur throughout the Midwest in the fall. “We would never be able to bring all of these artists from their homes abroad to Iowa by ourselves,” Herbert says. “Legion Arts works together with organizations in Chicago, Minneapolis, Madison, Milwaukee, and elsewhere to get the most exciting acts and try to program them so the acts can afford to come to this country and perform.” Some of the organizing began more than a year before this year’s Landfall Festival.

Herbert also emphasizes that he’s had plenty of help in Cedar Rapids. “We have a hard-working committee that researches, plans, and does the difficult labor involved. They have spent the past several months getting things ready.”

For Some, A First Trip to Iowa

The acts themselves have also been actively planning their tours and getting excited about coming out to Iowa. I interviewed two of the English-speaking acts to get their views about the upcoming festival: saxophonist Jack Wyllie from London’s Portico Quartet and percussionist Scott Kettner from the Brooklyn-based Nation Beat. Both artists spoke of the importance of sharing music from different parts of the world with others. Kettner was most emphatic about this point and presented his opinion in detail.

“We are really looking forward to perform in the heartland that has served as the backdrop for so many of America’s classic folk songs,”Kettner said. “However, I don’t think it’s important for people from Iowa to hear music from around the world, I think it’s important for everyone to hear music from around the world. . . .

“Music is a reflection of the culture in which people live in. Listening to different styles of music from around the world will help us have a better understanding of the culture which that music is coming from and in return will empower us to have more positive interactions with people from other cultures.”

Neither Nation Beat nor the Portico Quartet has performed in Iowa before. In fact, this will be Portico Quartet’s first trip to the United States. Wyllie’s impressions of the state would be what one might expect of a Londoner. “When I think of Iowa, I think of farmland, farm machinery, and Bill Bryson [the former Des Moines resident who moved to England and became a writer and champion of rural values],” Wyllie joked. “To be honest, I have never heard of Cedar Rapids, but I like places I haven’t heard of.”

“Music is a product of the musician’s lives and experiences,” Wyllie continued, “and as such, having the opportunity to connect with different cultures enables us to grow as musicians and share what we love doing. It also gives audiences a chance to connect with different cultures and experience new ways of thinking.”

Kettner prizes this intermingling of styles and ideas as an American and as an artist. Nation Beat is known for combining different styles, such as the songs of Hank Williams to a Brazilian beat. “American culture is based on many nationalities coming together and mixing,” he said. “We play American folk music—from both Americas.” Nation Beat performed with Willie Nelson at Farm Aid in 2008, and as a result the band has become increasingly conscious about where our  food comes from and the plight of the American farmer. Kettner hopes to see some farms while he is in Iowa and meet with local agriculturalists.

Herbert, who is also in the midst of renovating and expanding Legion Arts’ headquarters at the CSPS building in Cedar Rapids, plans to get the visiting artists involved in the community through workshops and at the local schools. “I have a ’60 type of idealism,” he said. “If you can’t change the world, you should at least improve your corner of it.” He might not admit it, but the Landfall Festival of World Music simultaneously changes the world and his corner of it.

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