World beat: African sounds fill the documentary 'Illymanya.'
This week's Santa Cruz Film Festival explores film and music's ability to transcend barriers
By Steve Hahn
MUSIC HAS a way of cropping up even in the most unexpected of places. This universal nature of music, and the way different styles interact, break down barriers and form new sounds, will be a theme interwoven throughout many of the films in this year's Santa Cruz Film Festival, running April 19-28. The ability of music to transcend cultural and political boundaries both within the United States and across the globe is hinted at by films such as Cuban Hip-Hop, a documentary focusing on the poor urban youth of Cuba who have integrated an art form from a country they're supposed to despise into their daily lives. The film traces the hip-hop movement from its humble beginnings in the 1980s to its thriving culture today and highlights how hip-hop speaks to the common struggles, desires and fears shared by young people of politically opposed nations. Cuban Hip-Hop will be joined by films such as Illymanya, which tells of an American performance troupe that traveled to Guinea to learn and bring back to rural America the country's rich tradition in music and dance, in showing music's power to create a common dialogue outside national identities.
Perhaps nowhere is this "melting pot" of music, dance and culture more profound than in the city of Fez, Morocco. Sound of the Soul explores the history of Fez, a meeting place of Christian and Islamic empires as well as the Jewish diaspora. The annual music festival in Fez brings musicians from Europe, Harlem and Africa together to share musical and spiritual traditions. As in many of the films at the festival, the commonalities between these traditions and the new art forms that can be created by blending the old traditions is stressed over the myth of irreconcilable differences.
There are also a slew of films exploring the process of music itself, how it is created despite (or because of) hardship, and how it refuses to be silenced. In China, music was once the purview of the centralized Communist leadership. The national orchestras were funded and run by the government. A Farewell Song explores what happened when that government support was cut off, and the musicians were forced to fend for themselves. An inspirational story of the sacrifices musicians are willing to endure for their art, this film allows viewers to peek into the crème de la crème of Chinese classical music and its persistence outside official channels. Perhaps throwing even more light onto the unquenchable drive musicians have to express themselves through sound, the film Jamesie, King of Scratch documents the history of the indigenous folk music that grew out of the Virgin Islands culture. The film highlights not only the inventiveness of the musicians on the islands, but also the function music plays in the community as a medium of storytelling and way of coping with the poverty. On the other hand, sometimes you just have an indescribable need to rock out. We Like to Drink: We Like to Play Rock And Roll tells the story of the über-ironically named "Unband" and their over-the-top lifestyles filled with decadence and loud music. Featuring a naked drummer, in-your-face power chords and devil-may-care punk-rock lyrics, this film should leave no one in the audience sitting down.
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