Brothers of the Baladi concert is a fundraiser for Mountain Town Music
March 23, 2012
For the past few years, Mountain Town Music has been trying to bring the Grammy Award nominated, Middle-Eastern folk-music group Brothers of the Baladi to Park City, but the timing didn’t work out.
This year, with the development of MTM’s education program, a plan came together, said Mountain Town Music director Brian Richards.
"Not only am I intrigued by the eclectic style this group brings to the table, but it also does workshops," Richards told The Park Record. "This gave us the opportunity to bring in a Grammy Award-nominated band, to not only perform, but to do a pre-performances workshop for Summit County students, and it made more sense having them come this year."
Mountain Town Music will present the Brothers of the Baladi at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Thursday, March 29, at 8 p.m. The concert is a fundraiser for Mountain Town Music’s educational programming. Tickets are $10 to $30. The group will also hold a free pre-performance workshop at the Egyptian Theatre from 4:30 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. The workshop is open to all Summit County students.
"Education is one of the most rewarding programming that we’ve done," Richards said. "It’s great being able to go into the schools and seeing how the music affects the kids, and we hope to continue to build upon in the future."
That’s why the upcoming concert is a fundraiser for Mountain Town Music.
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"When we take the music to the schools, we pay incur all the costs of putting on the concerts," Richards said. "We don’t ask the schools to pay anything."
Michael Beach, lead vocalist and doumbek/tabla player for the Brothers of the Baladi, said teaching people about the Middle-Eastern culture is one of the reasons why he plays the music he does.
"A lot of the songs are very old and that’s part of the education aspect of what we’re doing," Beach said during a phone interview from his home in Portland, Ore. "Even if we play as part of a crazy outdoor festival with people dancing and partying their butts off, we still hit them with a bit of cultural education."
One of his thrills is exposing children to the music.
"They are so tuned into technology and music is so easy to get a hold of, so I think it’s more important for kids to hear this music," he said. "I’m not asking them to love it. I’m not telling them to go get a doumbeck and play. I just want them to be introduced to the music and rhythms and listen. Hopefully, it will influence them in some positive way."
Also, Beach considers it a calling to play the music in the United States in the wake of 9/11.
"After what happened back then, our business went down to nothing because people were freaking out and expressing their hate for the Middle East," Beach said. "To be honest, I even wondered what we were trying to do at that time, but eventually some people started to realize that there are bad people everywhere, no matter what they wear or believe in and we started playing again.
"I know this music is incredible and there are a lot of parts of the culture I love," he said. "The dancing is cooler than anything and it brings people together and people need to come together."
Beach started the Brothers of the Baladi, which now features bassist J. Michael Keasey, oudist/sazist and guitarist Clark Salisbury and drummer Ashbolt Stewart, back in 1975, while living in Arizona.
"I grew up with a minimal music background and zero Middle-Eastern influences," he said with a laugh. "I grew up with rock ‘n’ roll, but I heard this music and it grabbed my soul and I wanted to learn about it and share it."
In the 1970s, the only people who really knew Middle-Eastern music were people who either lived there or were of Middle-Eastern descent.
"Ninety percent of the time an Arab band would only play for Arab audiences and musicians were hard to come by," Beach said. "In fact, they still are. There is always an abundance of guitarists, keyboardists and drummers you can recruit for a rock band, but with Brothers of the Baladi, you need traditional instruments. Fortunately, I’ve found people who agree with me, but really, how many oud and saz players are there?"
An oud is a Middle-Eastern lute, and a saz is like a Middle-Eastern banjo.
Still, in the past 10 years, the music has become more accessible and anyone with the Internet can find any of the songs on Google or YouTube, Beach said.
"There are a lot of Westerners playing the music, and in the past few years, needed to figure out how we stay viable," he said. "We decided just to keep doing what we do and we found that people still love it."
One of Beach’s main goals was to play the music as authentically as he could, and that means singing in the right languages.
"That’s all on me, because I’m the singer," he said. "Our audiences are only 10 percent Middle-Eastern natives, depending on who hires us, and I still have to make sure I’m singing correctly.
"It’s really no different than being in a cover band singing American classic songs," he said. "If someone is up there singing ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ and they are singing the wrong words, there’s a problem. Even ‘Happy Birthday’ isn’t sung ‘Happy to you birthday.’"
Beach is meticulous when it comes to pronunciation and intonation. He sings in Turkish, Armenian and Farsi, which is the Persian language.
"My biggest thrill is when people of those cultures come up after the show and tell me their grandmothers used to sing the songs to them and then give me a hug," he said.
Another goal for Beach is "turning Americans on to the music."
"Sometimes we’re hired to go in and be a traditional band, in sit-down, acoustic concerts where the audiences don’t want to hear anything in English or any Western music," he said. "Most of the time, however, audiences want a combination of both traditional and Western songs. That’s when we take a traditional Turkish song and throw a little English in and we electrify it, which helps American ears understand what the song is about."
All the songs the Brothers of the Baladi perform are love songs.
"They are about love, unrequited love, family, friends and love of the homeland," Beach said. "The name Baladi means folk, homeland or of-the-people."
Mountain Town Music will present the Brothers of the Baladi at the Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St., on Thursday, March 29, at 8 p.m. The concert is a fundraiser for Mountain Town Music’s educational programming. Tickets are $10 to $30. For more information, visit http://www.parkcityshows.com.