Three years in the making, the astoundingly rich 12th annual San Francisco World Music Festival launches on Oct. 28. Titled “The Epic Project: Madmen, Heroines & Bards from Around the World,” the three-evening festival receives its inspiration from a journey festival founder and artistic director Michael Santoro took to Kyrgyzstan several years back.
“One of the people I met was a musician called Manas, who sings the epic of Manas, Kyrgyzstan’s national hero,” he explained via Skype. “Surpassing the length of Greek epics by multiples, this epic is recited in intense trance, sometimes for over a week, by Manasgees who go without food. I was in a small room with this musician when he just started singing. It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever experienced, like nothing else I’d seen before.”
Santoro began to wonder how many other cultures engage in epic storytelling, using music as the main vehicle for channeling ancestors who convey ancient stories to modern listeners.
Realizing that he could get a unique sense of a culture’s humanity from these oral histories, which are all too rapidly dying out, he began to uncover such wonders as an elderly woman in Taiwan, the last keeper of a tradition of Chinese oral history, whose artistry will be heard in the U.S. for the first time at the Oct. 29 event, “Heroines.”
“That concert tells history through women’s eyes,” says Santoro. “If we had seen history through women’s eyes all along — if they had been free to sing their stories — our collective history would have been very different.”
On Oct. 28, “Madmen & Epic Heroes” includes a celebration of North Indian tabla master Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri’s 30 years in America with the Ali Akbar College of Music in Marin.
Chaudhuri, who frequently tours around the world, is especially proud of his students in the festival’s International Youth Orchestra, who will perform tabla, taiko drums and hand drumming to music he wrote for them.
By festival’s end, guests also will have been treated to five master musicians from Kyrgyzstan, several masters from China, two master singers from Azerbaijan and a host of international master musicians who scrape together livings in America while nurturing their craft.
Santoro spent an entire year arranging the logistics, transcribing different musical notations and figuring out ways for these great artists to perform together.
While all concerts will be streamed live at doordog.org, nothing can top seeing these musicians in the flesh. Given that the venue only seats 500, and that all concerts sold out last year, you’d be wise to buy your tickets now.
Where: Jewish Community Center, 3200 California St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Oct. 28-29; 7 p.m. Oct. 30
Tickets: $20, free to seniors and children under 12
Contact: (415) 292-1233, www.sfworldmusicfestival.org