From the eruptions of civil unrest following the no indictment rulings in the grand jury decisions of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the hostile response to President Obama’s proposed immigration reform, 2014 will be remembered as a time of tense racial relations in the United States.
In this column I frequently comment on issues relating to the relationship between race, culture and music. At times, the gravity of recent racial tensions in this country have left me speechless. I’ve felt there’s nothing I could possibly say about these specific issues that would change anyone’s deeply held convictions. But while I’m extremely disillusioned at the moment, I’m not hopeless. The tumultuous social landscape of 2014 has inspired me to focus with a renewed vigor on the greater goals of my work.
As both a DJ and a writer, I use music as a platform to foster cross-cultural experiences. I believe that listening to and participating in music traditions outside of one’s own cultural background can break down racial stereotypes and prejudices. In the spirit of promoting cross-cultural experiences, I wanted to review some of the high points of 2014 in Indy’s growing international music scene. I’ve focused this essay on specific venues to help encourage readers to explore this scene.
One of the most exciting developments in the Indianapolis international music scene this year was the emergence of Caribbean Village nightclub as a performance venue for global music stars. Perhaps the biggest concert at Caribbean Village this year was Jamaican dancehall king Beenie Man. Acclaimed Rastafarian reggae artist Turbulence also made an appearance on Caribbean Village’s stage this year, along with African stars like Nigerian singer Iyanya, creator of the massive dancefloor hit “Kukere,” and Cote d’Ivoire’s DJ Arafat, an important innovator of the coupé-décalé.
I wrote a cover story this summer detailing the enormous Latin music scene on Indy’s Westside where clubs like El Venue and Chispas attract thousands of live music fans every week. Some highlights from this year include performances at Chispas by Chilean rock heroes La Ley; Dominican bachata stars Luis Vargas, Hector Acosta; merengue icon Toño Rosario; Texas tejano music legends Intocable; aging Peruvian pop idols Los Pasteles Verdes; and a long list of Mexican regional music acts. At El Venue, the biggest show of the year was without a doubt the standing room only performance by Mexico’s kings of norteño music Los Tigres Del Norte.
In the spring, Clowes Hall hosted what is perhaps the most beloved act in all of international music: South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mamabazo, who appeared on the double bill with South American rocker Johnny Clegg. The show, presented just a few months after the death of Nelson Mandela, became something of a memorial for the deceased activist. At the Palladium, esteemed Indian table master Zakir Hussain gave a brilliant performance at what was likely the largest Indian music concert ever staged in Indiana.
This list would be incomplete if I didn’t give a shout to Bloomington’s annually staged Lotus Festival which brings dozens of the best musicians from across the globe for an unforgettable weekend of performances.
With so many iconic international performers making Indiana appearances this year, it’s hard to imagine that 2015 can compete with this year’s concert roster. But thankfully the growing numbers of immigrants in Central Indiana will ensure that the surge of international performers will continue flow onto local stages.