From Celtic to ‘Mountaineer Opera’ to Ladysmith Black Mambazo
by Leslie Vreeland
Jan 25, 2012 | 611 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>LADY SMITH BLACK MAMBAZO</b> – Plays the Palm Theatre Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m., in a benefit for KOTO community radio. (Courtesy photo)
LADY SMITH BLACK MAMBAZO – Plays the Palm Theatre Friday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m., in a benefit for KOTO community radio. (Courtesy photo)
As the British might put it, we are “spoilt for choice” when it comes to musical options in this region. Even so, this weekend offers a particularly rich mix of musical styles and statements. No time to ponder when you might like to go see these entertainers – in this regard, we are definitely not spoilt for choice. Each act is on the scene for one night only, starting today.

Jerry Barlow, who specializes in warm, intricate finger-style guitar, plays at the Wilkinson Library tonight, Jan. 26 at 6 p.m. This is the second time Barlow has visited the library, which was so impressed by his appearance last fall that they invited him back. Most of Barlow’s compositions are Celtic-inspired, but he came to the Northern Isles in a rather roundabout way: by living and working in Nashville for 18 years, where he wrote and sang for artists including Conway Twitty. By the end of his time in the South, “I had gotten to the point in my life that I couldn’t play commercial music and enjoy it anymore,” Barlow told a reporter for The Summit Daily News last year. “It wasn’t what I wanted to express. It’s very formalized and wasn’t quite working in terms of it being intrinsically rewarding.” Barlow packed up his guitar and headed home to Colorado.

He was seeking not only another way of life, but of music, and on both those scores he seems to have found some peace. Today Barlow specifically seeks out smaller settings – libraries, community rooms, museums – where he can play traditional and original songs and tell his tales. He does a lot of historic research (one reason why libraries, including the Wilkinson, love him), and is always on the lookout, and keeps an ear out, for a new story that will inspire his music. One morning on National Public Radio, for example, he learned a new detail regarding the 1746 Battle of Culloden in Scotland and its aftermath that he hadn’t known of. It deepened the meaning of one of the traditional Scottish songs he plays – the haunting “Loch Lomond,” which he will play and discuss on Thursday. In his newest album, Fields and Fences, Barlow has begun embracing a more Americana style. “Sometimes as an artist you find yourself evolving in certain directions that are not really premeditated, but your inner directives say ‘go’,” he explains. “Fortunately, the Americana music is congruent with the Celtic music I play.” His music may be evolving, but don’t expect Barlow to switch the type of venues he favors any time soon. “Touring and presenting history, music and legend to warm, appreciative audiences [in intimate settings] makes all the rest of this worthwhile,” he has said. There is no charge for Barlow’s performance at the library, and it is open to all ages.

On Friday, Jan. 27 Ladysmith Black Mambazo makes an appearance at the Palm Theatre at 7 p.m. in a benefit for KOTO community radio. The performance received generous funding from part-time Telluride residents Peter and Linda Bynoe.

It is the nine-member South African choir’s first visit to Telluride. Ladysmith is perhaps best known in this country for their appearance with Paul Simon in his 1986 hit Graceland, for which the group’s founder, Joseph Shabalala, helped Simon write two songs (“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless”). They’ve recorded more than 50 albums, and collaborated with numerous American artists including Emmylou Harris, Sarah McLachlan, Taj Majal, the late Lou Rawls and Phoebe Snow, and more. A 2-disc set of those collaborations, Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends, was released Jan. 10 as part of Razor & Tie’s Listen 2 Africa series. But of course, most of Ladysmith’s albums are recorded in Zulu (their native language), and for these they have won two Grammy Awards. Now they’ve been nominated for a third: Songs From a Zulu Farm, a children’s album. “This one is very important to us,” Albert Mazibuko, a tenor for Ladysmith, said by phone from his hotel room in the Kansas City Hilton the other evening (the group performed in Kansas City Wednesday night). “This is the music we used to sing when we were growing up.” Though the lyrics are in Zulu, listen closely, and you can hear the sounds of animals and laughing children. Among the sixteen tracks on Zulu Farm is “Old McDonald…Zulu Style,” a reworking of the familiar classic. Albert Mazibuko is Ladysmith founder Joseph Shabala’s cousin, and has been with the group for 40 years. The group tours eight months out of each year. It was exhausting just thinking about all this. What inspires them to keep going, I wondered. “At first, our inspiration to keep going was to encourage our people to stay strong and stay together. Unity is a power,” Mazibuko explained. “Now our inspiration is people everywhere. They want us to sing.” Plus, he added, “I just really enjoy singing. After I’m home for two days, I miss being with the other guys.” Tickets for Ladysmith Black Mambazo are $32 ($20 for children and students) and can be purchased by visiting telluridepalm.com or calling 970/369-5669.

Sunday night offers music a little more home-grown, when three alumni of Western State College team up for Mountaineer Opera at the Wright Opera House: A Night of Lyrical Theatre! The exclamation mark at the end of that sentence is important: it conveys the tone of the evening. This will be a lighthearted event, filled not only with opera but show tunes. Make no mistake, vocalists Jeff Hemington (in his day job, an elementary music teacher in Norwood), Andre Wilkins (the Ouray music teacher) and Kellie Egging (creator and conductor of Weehawken’s Children’s Chorale) all have serious musical chops. Hemington has had the lead in several operas, including Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance; Wilkins has sung in operas and in musicals including The Pajama Game, and Egging sings Mezzo-Soprano in the High Desert Opera of Grand Junction, where she recently performed in Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot. They’ll take on Verdi, Mozart and Puccini at this event, and also Gershwin, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern. In keeping with the playful spirit of the evening, it is black-tie, sort of. “I’ll probably wear a long lace skirt with some kind of top,” says the Wright’s manager Rennie Ross. “But people can wear a t-shirt with a black tie on it, they can even wear a bathing suit. We just want them to come and enjoy themselves. Why not visit the Second Chance Humane Society and pick up some affordable-yet-dashing attire?” Good fun for a couple of good causes. This evening is a benefit for Friends of the Wright. Champagne and cocktails will be served at 7 p.m.; the concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 ($7 for kids) and available at Buckskin Booksellers, Mouse’s Chocolates, Cimarron Books in Ridgway, or by phone at 970/325-4399.
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