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Singer-songwriters show humor and pain at the Rhizome

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Heartfelt folk ballads, songs based on Greek myths, and punk odes to making friends with woodland creatures while drugged out, came together at the Rhizome Monday night.

Singer-songwriter Jesse Ainslie began the night with his jangly, melancholy, country-influenced tracks. Ainslie, who is signed to Takoma Park’s own Epifo Records came to Rhizome as part of a tour supporting his latest album, “Only In The Dark.”

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World Music Festival brings jazz and Ghanian drums to Silver Spring

Trumpet Silhouette in Kente patternSILVER SPRING — Jazz bands shared the stage with African percussionists and Japanese dance troupes, while artisans displayed work that traveled across the Atlantic, at the World Music Festival Sunday in Silver Spring.

The festival highlighted the diverse culture of the D.C. area, with musical performances, food, and artisans. One vendor, Jean-Jacques from GlobalBatik.com, specialized in African art and clothing imported from the West African country of Togo. His wares are handmade by ten different artists in Togo with local fabrics and dyes, according to Jacques.

A popular product in GlobalBatik’s catalog is Batik shirts, according to Jacques. Many of his shirts feature bright, vibrant colors and West African themes and symbols.

“You can fit any kind of story that is related to Africa. In this case, I used an Adrinka symbol, which are visual symbols that usually represent words of wisdom,” said Jacques. “Or this T-shirt here, I put a map of the continent with all the lines representing the main rivers.”

Modern symbols, such as imagery from the Marvel movie “Black Panther,” had a presence among Jacques’s shirts as well. The designs being placed on non-traditional items, such as tank tops, further showed the mix of old and new that Jacques cultivated.

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Singer-songwriter Hayley Fahey underscores the voice of women in music

Derwood-based singer-songwriter Hayley Fahey.  COURTESY PHOTODerwood-based singer-songwriter Hayley Fahey. COURTESY PHOTO  The love of music was like mother’s milk to Hayley Fahey.

“My mother used to sing songs to me in my crib,” said the Derwood-based singer-songwriter. “Both of my grandmothers sang and played piano.”

Music filled the house, mostly of her father’s preferred singers – Eva Cassidy, Stevie Wonder, Dixie Chicks, and Bob Marley – exposing the young Hayley to a “variety of genres.” The singer herself started writing songs when she was a child.

Fahey performed in church and school choirs and “did all the high-school musicals,” but technically, her first time on stage was in a musical revue at Roberto Clemente Middle School.

She feels so grateful to the school, Fahey said, that she volunteers there as a performer. Fahey also is a special guest, announcing the winner of the Battle for the Bands, then rehearing and recording one of her original songs with the winners.

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Children’s music performer launches new season of Strathmore’s “Backyard Theater”

Little Miss Ann opens a new season of “Backyard Theater for Kids” at the Mansion at Strathmore. COURTESY PHOTOLittle Miss Ann opens a new season of “Backyard Theater for Kids” at the Mansion at Strathmore. COURTESY PHOTO  Elementary school teachers often spend time singing to or with students, but not everyone ends up a professional singer.

Ann Torralba did. With a Masters in special education, Torralba spent seven years teaching public elementary school students “on the spectrum.”

She often bought her guitar to class and joined a band while in graduate school.

“But I never thought I’d play professionally,” Torralba said. “I had very little formal training.”

A Chicago resident, Torralba now occasionally goes on the road as “Little Miss Ann,” and one of her out-of-town gigs will be at the Mansion at Strathmore, as part of its “Backyard Theater for Kids” summer music series, which she launches on July 5.

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Blues Festival celebrates beautiful music in Downtown Silver Spring

Robert Lighthouse Performing at the Silver Spring Blues FestivalSwedish-born musician Robert Lighthouse performed at the Silver Spring Blues Festival. PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  SILVER SPRING — Singers pined for old lovers, protested social ills, and asked the timeless question, “When I get drunk, who’s gonna carry me home?,” at the 10th annual Silver Spring Blues Festival on Saturday.

The 12-hour-long concert featured 12 artists performing on two stages in downtown Silver Spring. The show marked the end of Blues Week, a series of concerts in the area leading up to Saturday’s festivities, in which 1920s-era blues classics shared the stage with new original songs to create a lively mix of styles.

Alan Bowser, former president of Silver Spring Town Center, started the Silver Spring Blues Festival in 2009. He created the festival to be something unique to Silver Spring, and to help support local businesses.

“Over the years we’ve grown from one stage from two stages. We’ve gone from all-electric blues to electric blues and acoustic blues. We’ve gone from one day to Blues Week because there wasn’t enough time for just one day of blues,” said Bowser.

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Alice and Isaac folk duo celebrate release of debut album

Folk duo Alice and Isaac performed at Round House Theatre to celebrate the release of their debut album, “What I Was Thinking.”  PHOTO BY MATT HOOKEFolk duo Alice and Isaac performed at Round House Theatre to celebrate the release of their debut album, “What I Was Thinking.” PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  BETHESDA — Performing at Round House Theatre, the same theater where they first met during a production of “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” folk duo Alice and Isaac celebrated the release of their debut album, “What I Was Thinking,” a series of upbeat love songs.

The guitar-mandolin duo, whose real names are Katie Kleiger and Brandon McCoy, met two years ago but did not play music together until this past December. The delay resulted from Kleiger’s moving to New York City after the “Miss Bennet” production. Kleiger and McCoy reconnected after she moved back to the area, and the duo started playing together between showings of the play “The Book of Will” at Round House Theatre. The name “Alice and Isaac” comes from the names of the characters they performed in the play.

“We were playing just for ourselves (in the Green Room), and every now and then someone would sit down and listen,” said Kleiger. “But I mainly felt we were in the way, taking up this shared space.”

McCoy and Kleiger are actors by trade, and their musical-theater background showed through with polished two-part-harmony vocals. The concert is part of Round House’s move to become a more-diverse arts space, according to McCoy.

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Persian music and minimalism meet at Rhizome

Bassist Ernest Jones and drummer Dave Miller join headliner Martin Bisi in a performance at the Rhizome.  PHOTO BY MATT HOOKEBassist Ernest Jones and drummer Dave Miller join legendary musician/producer Martin Bisi in a performance at the Rhizome. PHOTO BY MATT HOOKE  WASHINGTON, D.C. — With his eyes closed, engrossed in the music, and sweat dripping down his face, the Washington D.C.-based musician Kamyar Arsani sang the words: “You are Nothing but a God,” as he performed at the Rhizome near the Takoma Park Metro station in Northwest Washington, D.C.

The show displayed tremendous diversity, with Arsani’s Persian music accompanied by a set of minimalist music by Takoma Park musician Jason Mullinax and headliner Martin Bisi’s noise rock.

Arsani’s music hails from a rich tradition of Sufi mystics. He took a bare-bones approach to his set, with two instruments, his voice, and the daf. The daf, a large, handheld frame drum with metal ingots attached, is an ancient instrument, its roots stretching back hundreds of years. Arsani paid tribute to this heritage while also giving the instrument a modern touch. Arsani’s first set, a collection of original compositions, showcased the new, while his second set, an adaptation of a poem by the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi, featured the old.

The Iranian-born Arsani began the performance singing in English, before switching to Farsi. He used dynamics, masterfully switching from bombastic, impassioned sections to subdued, quiet moments, when his voice became only a whisper.

“I saw people getting shot, screaming ‘freedom’ in Farsi, and just getting shot like it was no big deal, but it was a big deal for me,” said Arsani. “When I play my instruments that’s one of my first thoughts, is ‘How can I speak to that energy? How can I channel the feelings that those people went through?’”

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Singer/songwriter produces for love of music, not money

Jim Kennedy’s latest CD reflects multiple sources of inspiration. COURTESY PHOTOJim Kennedy’s latest CD reflects multiple sources of inspiration. COURTESY PHOTO  Asking Jim Kennedy how he intends to market his new album, “The Mischief of Life,” elicits an unexpected response.

“The point is not to sell the album; the point is to make it,” said Kennedy. “Music can be produced as a consumer product with sales as the goal, or it can be [artistic] expression and craftwork. My ‘marketing strategy’ is to share the CD with people. and hope they like it. I’m not trying to become a rock star or get rich.”

If they do like it, he’ll try to put together a “good group of musicians” and perform it to attentive audiences. If that doesn’t happen, he says he’s “still perfectly satisfied” having made the CD.

Kennedy wrote all 12 songs on “The Mischief of Life.” He plays all the instruments, and did the engineering and producing. He recorded the songs in his “home studio” – a laptop on his kitchen table and a cluttered corner of his band-rehearsal room.

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Folksinger David Mallett appears in WFMA concert

Folksinger David Mallett. COURTESY PHOTOFolksinger David Mallett. COURTESY PHOTOFolksinger-songwriter David Mallett grew up in rural Maine, in a somewhat-isolated existence. That changed when, at the age of 12, he acquired a Martin – the cream of the crop of guitars – for only $120.

“My mother used to sing hillbilly songs and the songs of Jimmy Rogers around the house,” Mallett said. “And it was the time the Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, and Peter, Paul and Mary were getting their start.”

Mallett and his brother formed a duo, which played at talent shows and even won one when he was 12.

“From then on, we were on TV shows, made records,” he said. “All our spending money came from shows.”

Since releasing his first record 40 years ago, Mallett has been “doing music full time” – recording an additional 13 albums, performing, and providing material for a list of artists that includes Alison Krauss, Pete Seeger, Hal Ketchum, Emmylou Harris, John Denver and the Muppets.

One of the venues he has performed at frequently, and revisited on April 15, is Positano Ristorante Italiano in Bethesda – where the Washington, D.C.-based World Folk Music Association presents its events.

In existence since 1983, the organization is dedicated to promoting contemporary and traditional folk music, and spreading the word to both fans and folk artists, said WFMA President Chuck Morse.

“David is very special and well-known,” said Morse. “He’s the featured and only performer at our upcoming concert.”

The association offers two types of events. Showcases take place generally on the second Sunday of each month and feature primarily local performers or groups.

WFMA doesn’t sell tickets in advance for these, but does take advance reservations.

The association does sell advance tickets for concerts, which focus on individual artists.

Mallett found inspiration in Gene Autry and Johnny Cash as well as other country singers such as Marty Ross. “Basically, anyone who didn’t sing with a deep twang,” he joked.

He also sings songs by Don Gibson, the Everly Brothers, the Kingston Trio, and even the Beatles.

Despite the doubters, Mallett believes folk music and acoustic music in general are “stronger than ever. Guitar sales are up, and every day there’s a new little band,” he said.

Although it may not as obvious as during the 1960s, folk music is also the voice of “social conscience,” Mallett added. “Its appeal is also about optimism. Most of my life I wrote songs that celebrated life, love, and especially nature.”

One of Mallett’s celebratory songs – probably his most-famous in general – is “Garden Song.” He started composing the chorus when he and his father were planting together, and completed the verses later that same day, at a friend’s house.

“I still sing it at every show,” Mallett said. “I’m very proud of it.”

The folksinger-songwriter has another reason for optimism about the future of his genre of music. His sons are continuing the tradition by performing together as the Mallett Brothers.

Michelle Murray, in contrast, debuted at a WMFA event – a Showcase – on March 11.

Influenced by Joan Baez, she started playing guitar and writing songs during her first year in college.

“I heard about WFMA through the general music community,” Murray said. “Specifically, Brent Ruggles, vice president of the Association, invited me to participate in a showcase after hearing me perform at an open mic and listening to my CD. It meant a great deal to be invited to play in their concert series they provide a wonderful venue with an attentive audience.”

The showcase was also a “perfect place” to release her new EP, “This Life, My Life,” Murray added.

WFMA concerts and showcases take place at the Positano Ristorante Italiano, 4948-4940 Fairmont Avenue, Bethesda. 301-654-1717. For information about the association, visit: http://wfma.net.

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Once he was just flamenco and now Cigala is a whole lot more

Diego el Cigala sings various genres of music at The Music Center of Strathmore. COURTESY PHOTODiego el Cigala sings various genres of music at The Music Center of Strathmore.  COURTESY PHOTO  Ask people the key component in flamenco, and they’ll likely say, dance. Experts will reply that dance is only one of five elements – and singing is another.

One who illustrates the centrality of singing in flamenco is Diego el Cigala, who will appear at The Music Center of Strathmore, under the co-sponsorship of Strathmore and Washington Performing Arts.

Becoming a flamenco singer was a foregone conclusion.

“It was never a conscious decision,” el Cigala said. “I am a flamenco singer since I can remember. I won my first contest at 11 or 12 years old and started to work really early, so there was never a moment where I said: ‘Now I am going to be a singer.’”

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