‘Women in World Jazz’ takes Brandeis on a world tour – without leaving Chums

November 1, 2019

Now in their fifth year as an all-female quintet, Women in World Jazz promises bright, educational and jazzy music performances from around the world. Tal Shalom-Kobi is the group’s director, and her talents range from vocals to upright bass to accordion. Candida Rose is the lead vocalist, and her compelling voice and vibrant stage presence combine for an all-around warm sound. The group’s versatile reedist, Ririka Tokushige, deftly maneuvers between saxophone and flute, providing additional vocals as well. On guitar and vocals is Laurie Goldsmith, and Diane Gately sits at the helm of drum. The band’s Tuesday evening gig in Chums, hosted by Brandeis’ Hebrew Department, was a multicultural tribute to female composers, their setlist exclusively featuring music created by women from various countries. Each track from the night embodied the particular sound of its origin country, temporally and geographically transporting the audience with each song.

Women in World Jazz opened their performance with “Pata Pata,” the ubiquitous feel-good dance tune by South African artist Miriam Makeba. The audience grooved along to Rose’s crooning (in the song’s original language of Xhosa) and the swing of the instruments. Also notable was Tokushige’s saxophone solo, which the audience encouraged by clapping along to the beat.

Israel was the next country represented, with the group performing Nurit Hirsh’s “Bashana Haba’ah” entirely in Hebrew, save for one verse in Japanese. While briefly explaining the history of this song, Women in World Jazz invited the audience to practice saying the chorus in Hebrew, and throughout the performance, students from the Hebrew department enthusiastically sang along, and many danced in their seats. For this track, Shalom-Kobi swapped out her bass for the accordion, fully rounding out the Near-Eastern sound of the song’s origin. Tokushige, too, demonstrated the full breadth of her talents by switching to the flute.

“Otemoyan,” written by Japanese artist Ine Nagata, was next, and, again, Women in World Jazz, introduced the song by teaching the audience a few simple Japanese lyrics, inviting all to sing along. For this number, each member of the band donned a happi, a special type of straight-sleeve kimono coat usually worn during festivals. Originally a folk song, “Otemoyan” had a strong, almost-marching beat, ornamented with some syncopated funk and Rose’s strong vocal riffs. The next song, “Gracias A La Vida,” composed by Chilean artist Violeta Parra, began with the slower, melancholic swirl of Shalom-Kobi’s accordion and Rose’s heartfelt Spanish singing before picking up with the addition of include guitar, drums and saxophone. Up next, representing Cape Verde, was Tete Alhinho’s “Dia C’Tchuva Bem,” performed in Creole. For this one, Women in World Jazz incorporated the claves as part of the percussion and invited the audience to clap and stomp along to the clave pattern. Gately’s drum solo here was particularly impressive and skillful, especially against the backdrop of the rather cacophonic “rhythm” created by the thumps and slaps of the crowd.

The German “Alles Was Ich Wuensche,” composed by Betinna Wegner, was the penultimate song of the night, and Women in World Jazz invited two special guests to the stage––Christine Reif as lead vocalist and Brandeis student Joanna Marcus ’22 on violin––for the performance. This starkly somber track introduced a welcome layer of complexity to the group’s otherwise upbeat setlist. Reif’s half-sung, half-spoken German vocals created a sense of intimacy and vulnerability alongside the soft flute and stripped-down guitar strumming. Marcus’s violin, rich with vibrato, wove in a saccharine texture to the song, and her playing prompted raucous applause from the audience.

Ending the night was a rendition of the Brazilian song “Abre Alas,” originally by Chiquinha Gonzaga, in its original language of Portuguese. For this closing number, Women in World Jazz handed out various hand percussion instruments to members of the audience and invited all to dance. Spirits were high as students and professors alike rose out of their seats and cheered, sang and danced together, arm over shoulder and hand in hand. The energy of the room had been revitalized, and the band looked like they were having a ton of fun.

Though each song from the evening originated from different eras and different countries, the performers unified them in this performance as a way to spotlight women and their contributions to global culture. When introducing each song to the crowd, Women in World Jazz took time to situate that track within its broader social context––discussing the musical history of the song, the history of the country from which it originated and the composer’s musical and political work. As the band explained during their performance, the composers featured on the setlist were not only pioneers in music but also champions of social justice. In centering women and their achievements, Women in World Jazz successfully embodied the lively, feminist spirit that these composers pushed forward.

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