From the Sacred Space to the Stage
Kirtan Musicians, 2013, Voices of the Spirit 3. Photo: Cindy Cheng
CONTRIBUTOR: Angel Quesada, Folklife + Civic Engagement Manager
While I’ve only lived here since 2010, I’ve also lived in Boston and Los Angeles, so have seen my share of diverse ethnic communities. After having moved Houston, I would say Houston definitely holds its own when compared with these other cosmopolitan US cities. In regard to its citizenry and particular Southern charm, which I have experienced firsthand, this city has many deep roots, and its musical traditions have been passed down over the generations.
This is the third year I have had the honor to co-produce Voices of the Spirit, already in its fifth iteration in 2015, along with my co-worker and friend Pat Jasper, the director of Folklife + Traditional Arts at Houston Arts Alliance. The process is always an unexpected adventure with many twists and turns and never disappoints.
Many have come to know this city via its numerous places of worship. These special havens are repositories for traditions from a variety of cultures from far flung places--Houston never stops surprising. Looking back over the past three years, 2013’s Voices of the Spirit 3 was a delight which featured a Vietnamese Choir, Nigerian praise music, Indian carnatic and traditional Sikh music from Punjab, and finally Iraqi Sufi music; 2014’s Voices of the Spirit 4 was further aural pleasure that shone a spotlight (literally) on Chung Mei’s Buddhist nuns, rollicked with Soul Influence’s gospel dynamism, and included the Hindustani master musician Pandit Suman Ghosh.
The 2015 concerts looked like another eclectic presentation of devotional music in the beautiful Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater at Asia Society Texas Center. I worked closely with our lineup of devotional performers, Jewish Cantor Daniel Mutlu, Hindustani musicians Chandrakantha and David Courtney, a gospel ensemble with the Cortez Family, and, of course, the fascinating Danza de Chinelos de la familia Lopez accompanied by Banda Viento Morelense Hermanos Campos. Over the years, many of the Voices of the Spirit groups have never been seen outside of their traditional context – whether it be church, mosque, temple, or other house of worship. It’s worth noting that the opportunity to see a cross section of the faith communities in one sitting is nothing short of extraordinary.
This concert is the result of months of fieldwork and preparation. This entails is a lot of driving, emails, phone calls, late night meetings, attending weekend services and generating documentation to let the public know about these groups. For me, the best part of putting this together is getting to see the interaction between the various groups backstage and in the dressing rooms. Or, perhaps, it is getting to see the reactions of the audience members and their feedback after it’s all said and done. It’s a toss-up. Either way, the ultimate reward of working on Voices of the Spirit is knowing that these very different traditions would never be seen side-by-side each other on stage without the collaborative spirit of so many.