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As Mohammed might have said, if you don't get to the world, get the world to come to you.
Next week's 2006 Tel Aviv World Music Festival might not include sounds from the entire planet, but judging by the program's cultural spread, it takes a good shot at it - especially at the predominantly Latin sector. Between July 13 and 15, fans of ethnic music will be able to groove to rhythms from Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Cuba and Portugal.
The organizers of the festival - which will take place in Tel Aviv, Ra'anana and at Shuni Castle near Binyamina - are evidently keen on getting their patrons out of their seats and dancing in the aisles. Take, for example, the intoxicating samba reggae of the Olodum troupe from Brazil, whose 15 members will do their utmost to bring the excitement and colors of Rio's famous Carnival to these shores. Olodum, which has 20 albums to date, won worldwide exposure in 1988 when it contributed to Paul Simon's Rhythm of the Saints album; eight years later, the full complement of 200 Olodum percussionists appeared in the video clip of Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us."
The career of 38-year-old Lila Downs, who is the closing act of the festival on July 15 (9 p.m.) at the Tel Aviv Opera House, was also boosted by an appearance on the big screen when she starred in a tango singing spot in the 2002 movie Frida. Downs has the archetypal world-music artist's background. She was born in Mexico to an American father and Indian Mexican mother, and grew up in Minneapolis. "I actually grew up in a strange cultural context," acknowledged Downs in a telephone interview from Barcelona, where she was performing prior to her visit here. "Minneapolis has a sort of Nordic background, although there were kids from all over the world in my school. Mind you, there weren't many Latinos, so I considered myself something of an outcast."
It has been suggested that anything can be turned into an advantage, and Downs certainly uses her variegated childhood as an artistic tool.
"I moved between Mexico and the States as a kid, and that didn't lead to a particularly stable lifestyle. I think that's why a big part of my music is about searching for identity and finding myself ingrained in the roots of my Indian past. I guess I have a lot to draw on."
Downs' rich cultural mix was even further enhanced 13 years ago, when she married Jewish musician Paul Cohen, who plays saxophone, clarinet and piano in her band and will appear with her in Tel Aviv. "Yes, I think Judaism also informs what I do artistically," admits Downs. "Paul and I compose together, and we each bring cultural baggage to what we do. Also, Paul has a background in playing jazz and being a circus clown. So he brings all that to our music too."
In fact, it was when she met Cohen that Downs realized she wanted to take up music professionally. "My mother was a singer and, when I was younger, I thought I'd be an opera singer. But later I studied anthropology and weaving and symbolism and got sidetracked. I also studied resistance in a small Indian community in the area of Mexico that I came from - resistance to western colonialism. I think learning about different ways of looking at history is important to what I later did in my music."
The result of the cultural and marital confluences is a heady mix of traditional Mexican ranchera music with strains from all kinds of other genres. Downs' group of seven musicians and a video artist will offer a colorful picture of her native country, seasoned with some extraneous sounds and rhythms.
And if that wasn't enough, the world music festival program includes Spanish singer Diego El Cigala, who mixes flamenco and Cuban music, and Portuguese fado (Portuguese blues) singer Christina Branco, who replaced London-born Indian singer Susheela Raman (who dropped out due to sickness).
Add a host of local world-music artists and free shows in the Opera House lobby, and the world is your oyster.
For further information call (03) 523-8080.