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GlobalFest 2016: An Interview With Festival Organizer, Bill Bragin

Last year was the first GlobalFest that I had the pleasure of attending. I was excited about what I was about to experience, as I knew I was embarking on my most eclectic, and wordly, music festival experience to date. The renowned concert, then in its twelfth year, was at Webster Hall, where the enthusiasm of the rest of the festivalgoers was so palpable, I thought I could almost touch it. I saw Sam Lee and Friends perform and, interestingly enough, it was also their first time at GlobalFest so I knew I was in good company.

He owned the stage, along with the rest of his band members, and drew a huge applause from everyone following the end of his set. I looked around and saw city residents, members of the press, and people from all over, enjoy the unique sounds of his Anglo-Roman-Gypsy music. Lee said how hot he was becoming on stage, to which a member of the crowd responded, “Take off the sweater?” Lee replied, “No, I don’t do that anymore,” referring to his former days as a Burlesque dancer.

GlobalFest 2016 arrives on Sunday, January 17, and comes with great opportunity for Heartstrings. We had a chance to speak to one of the show’s organizers, Bill Bragin, who is also the Executive Artistic Director for New York University’s Abu Dhabi Arts Center.

Andrew Kase: GlobalFest is entering its 13th year in January. How long have you been involved with GlobalFest, and what drew you to the festival?

Bill Bragin: We cofounded globalFEST 13 years ago with a goal of moving world music to the center of the performing arts world in North America. We were both regular attendees of the WOMEX conference in Europe and felt strongly that we needed to have a similar event in the U.S. to help catalyze and expand the market for global music. We identified the APAP (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) conference as the best context in which to create an industry focused event that was also open to the public.

How do you choose your artists?

The three co-producers (Isabel Soffer, Shanta Thake and I) review literally hundreds of submissions compiled through an open call. We work on a consensus basis and try to find truly excellent artists who are ready to take a larger step into the North American touring market.

We aim for a diversity of styles, in terms of sound, cultural background, size, gender, place in their career and so on.

This year’s lineup is very different from last year’s. Can you describe what motivated that change?

We want every edition to be revelatory. Each year is different from the last. Because we are trying to help build touring careers, we are careful to limit creating too much competition within a single edition but also across editions. It’s also a product of who applies, and sometimes current events.

Why did you feel as if Webster Hall was the best venue for this type of festival?

It’s rare to find a venue with three distinct venues, all with excellent production, under one roof. Webster Hall has been an iconic part of NYC’s musical history for decades.

Do you see yourselves changing the venue at any point, and if you do, where and why?

We sell out most years in advance. It would be great to have a venue that allowed us to grow the audience, but at the same time, the vibes in Webster Hall are so good, that we would need a very special new venue that could function as well and maintain the multi-stage format under one roof.

How do you imagine the festival to be in 5 years?

We’d love to see it continue to break artists the way it has done so for people like Mariza and DakhaBrakha, but possibly expand our reach through livestreaming and other media extensions. We continue to expand our activities through other events: our globalFEST On The Road tour (A 3 artist package, Creole Carnival, tours this Feb-April with Brazil’s Casuarina, Haiti’s Emeline Michel and Jamaica’s Brushy One-String), and we’d like to continue to expand the globalFEST Touring Fund, which provides financial support to globalFEST artists so they can take advantage of opportunities sparked by the flagship festival

What do you want festival-goers to take away from gF 2016?

We’d love for festival goers to discover some new favorite artists, as well as an appreciation of the diversity and creativity coming from all corners of the globe.

GF is not just a festival, but has become a great platform for artists to collaborate and network. Describe some of the programs that GlobalFest is involved with such as On the Road (GFOTR), and the gF Touring Fund (GFTF).

GFOTR brings specially curated tour packages to over 30 communities across the U.S., bringing the quality and variety we are known for to new markets. The GFTF helps artists to be able to afford to visit new markets where they haven’t yet performed. In both cases our goal is to create new opportunities for cultural exchange.

What do you think distinguishes gF from other music events, especially in NYC?

There’s not a single event that we know of that brings together this range and quality of artists on multiple stages under a single roof all in one night for one low price.

What would be your advice for up-and-coming artists, especially those who want to be part of the festival circuit?

Work on your art – be the best you can be, and then be patient and persistent. It doesn’t happen overnight. Build relationships, build a story one venue and one market at a time.

You can’t take over the entire U.S. all at once. When you have successful shows, maintain relationships with the presenters who can become important champions. And treat each show, large and small, as important. You never know who is on the audience.

GlobalFest takes place on Sunday, January 17, 2016 at Webster Hall in NYC. Doors at 6 PM, Show at 7 PM. Get your tickets here.