VOICES OF THE SPIRIT: REFLECTIONS
Angel Quesada, Folklife + Traditional Arts Manager
While I've only lived here since 2010, I've lived in Boston as well as Los Angeles and have seen my share of diverse ethnic communities. After having moved to Houston, I would say it definitely holds its own when compared with these other cosmopolitan US cities. In regards 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 of cultural immigrants who have flocked to Houston.
This is the third year I have had the opportunity to co-produce Voices of the Spirit, already in its fifth iteration, along with my co-worker and friend Pat Jasper, the director of Folklife + Traditional Arts. The process is always an unexpected adventure with many twists and turns and never disappoints.
Many have come to know this city via its many 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 III was a delight featuring a Vietnamese Choir, Nigerian praise music, Indian carnatic and Sikh music, and finally Persian Sufi music; 2014’s Voices of the Spirit IV was a 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 look like another eclectic presentation of devotional music in the beautiful Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater at Asia Society Texas Center. Jewish Cantor Daniel Mutlu, Hindustani musicians Chandrakantha and David Courtney, a gospel ensemble with the Cortez Family, and, of course, the fascinating Danza Chinelos del Estado de Morelos with Banda Viento Morelense Hermanos Campos with whom I have been working closely. Over the years, many of the Voices of the Spirit groups have never been seen outside of their traditional context whether church, mosque, temple, or respective 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. What 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 divergent traditions would never be seen side-by-side one another on stage without the collaborative spirit of so many.