At Big Ears 2019, a poignant world premiere crosses international boundaries and unapologetically explores some of the most beautifully human ideas of our time through a series of multidisciplinary and transnational performances. With Mosaic Interactive, a new suite of three distinct pieces, a dozen musicians and composers from North Africa, South Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, and the United States join together to explore complex topics that are as personal as they are political, combining the traditions and techniques of their homelands in a polyglot expression of our shared humanity.
Mosaic Interactive is the compelling brainchild of Found Sound Nation, an organization launched in 2010 as an outgrowth of the pivotal new music organization and longtime Big Ears partner Bang on a Can. Found Sound produces workshops around the world that challenge people to explore their hopes, ambitions, and anxieties through music, often asking those divided by geopolitical extremes to find a connection through creativity. For Mosaic Interactive, Found Sound has partnered with the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, whose timely Building Bridges program has facilitated artistic exchange and understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. Soon after being workshopped in East Kentucky and West Virginia, Mosaic Interactive arrives at Big Ears for its first full production, turning Knoxville’s Square Room into a locus for this necessary cultural exchange.
These three pieces confront some central issues of our time and look for the emotional resonance that is often crowded out of hyper-polarized debates or global conflicts. Dreams, for instance, stems from Found Sound’s collaboration with Asma Ghanem, a Palestinian electronic musician, and children in the Qalandiya refugee camp for Palestinians bound by the Israeli West Bank Barrier. The piece expresses the dreams of those kids—at once exhilarating and bittersweet—through sounds and projections, looking past political and religious turmoil to remind us that these are real children with real imaginations and dreams. Likewise, in Memories, the Brooklyn-based Balkan singer Eva Salina and the Kurdish singer Ali Tekbas pair on a program of largely Kurdish tunes that explore topics uncovered by parallel interviews with women in Eastern Kentucky and Turkey: marriage, motherhood, home. The songs will be interwoven with excerpts of those conversations and illustrated by images at a time when the push for rights and equality for women worldwide has found renewed vim.
And finally, Rituals shatters preconceived notions of genres and artistic silos by pairing Morocco’s Mehdi Nassouli and West Virginia’s Ben Townsend. Nassouli is a master of the strummed and plucked guembri, a central piece of Morocco’s ancient and revered gnawa tradition; Townsend, a fiddler and banjo master, once biked from West Virginia to California, playing traditional music with his hosts in every state. Joined by every musician in the Mosaic project, the two lead the way through the “lila” ceremony, an intricate and ecstatic overnight ritual that the gnawa people use to explore spirituality and history. With the thrum of the banjo and guembri, Nassouli and Townsend provide a deeply hypnotic soundtrack, their shared sounds reaching across international divisions between Appalachia and North Africa.
Perhaps that seems like an unlikely pairing, but the goal of Mosaic Interactive, after all, is to collect and convey notions of what we all hold sacred and how we transmit those feelings to future generations. In this fractious international moment, there may be nothing more sacred than mere cooperation.
During Big Ears 2019, the Mosaic Interactive ensemble will perform Dreams, Memories and Rituals multiple times and host community-wide events, including a potluck, a dance, and more.
Meet the Mosaic musicians:
Ali Tekbas (vocalist/composer, Turkey)
Peni Candra Rini (vocalist/composer, Indonesia)
Mehdi Nassouli (guembri, Morocco)
Ben Townsend (fiddle/banjo, West Virginia)
Eva Salina (vocalist, New York)
Alexia Webster (videography/photography, South Africa)
Kyla Rose Smith (violinist/producer, New York/South Africa)
Zafer Tawil (oud/violin, New York/Palestine)
Samah Boulmona (accordion, Lebanon)
Gideon Crevoshay (vocalist, Vermont)
Chris Marianetti (composer/producer; New York)
Jeremy Thal (french horn/producer, New York)
Elena Moon Park (violin/producer, New York)
The production team includes Maxwell Bowman (Lighting/Video Design, New York); Ezra Tenenbaum (Production Manager, New York); Chris Botta (Sound Design, New York). Mosaic also includes artistic contributions from Hatim Belyamani (multimedia/conductor, New York/Morocco) and Asma Ghanem (electronics, Palestine).
Mosaic Interactive is a project of Bang on a Can’s Found Sound Nation, a non-profit creative agency that uses music-making to connect across cultural divides. Supported by the Building Bridges program of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Additional Residency support provided by the Pocantico Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.