MUSIC NOTES: Celebrate Earth Day with the exhilarating music of Libana

Written by Anne Ierardi

Chatham concert promises world tour

Sue Robbins Portrait

Portrait of Sue Robbins, illustration by Anne Ierardi

“Libana has collected accolades from far and wide. They have been called ‘magical,’ ‘…diverse, colorful, a wonder to behold…’ and ‘one of the top musical groups performing today.’ Perhaps a critic from the Cape Cod Times said it best, though, when he wrote that ‘their music makes you high. It swells the spirit as they swing into harmonies never encountered in American music.’” — The Southampton Press (NY)

The amazing music of Libana stretches our imaginations and brightens our spirits as we listen to music from Bolivia, Algeria, India, Liberia, Malaysia, the Bedouin Arabs, the Sephardic Jews and beyond! Libana returns to Cape Cod on Sunday, April 21, at 3 p.m. at the Chatham Unitarian Universalist Meeting House. Susan Robbins, Lisa Bosley, Allison Coleman, Marytha Paffrath, Linda Ugelow and Cheryl Weber make up Libana. They play instruments from many parts of the world including the djembe (West Africa drum) dholak (Indian drum), charangos (Indian strings) and the oud. Their songs and chants are illuminated by spoken introductions to the cultural context of the music with stories or anecdotes.

Artistic Director Sue Robbins and I met for lunch at a Peruvian restaurant near her music studio in Somerville. She described how Libana came to be:

“I had an epiphany 34 years ago on Crane’s Beach in Ipswich. I felt disheartened after Alexander’s Feast broke up (early music/medieval renaissance group) so I sought refuge at the beach. My best dreaming occurs at the beach and indeed, it was like a lightning bolt, an epiphany. My desire was two-fold: to explore what women around the world were doing and to work with a group of women to understand and work with the creative process as women.”

Libana was born as 25 women gathered to make music together, music that empowered a depth, authenticity and freedom of expression. It was a time when women, especially in the Cambridge/Somerville area, embraced change, formed groups and experimented with new art forms and healing expressions. That quest fueled the hauntingly beautiful music of Libana for the past 34 years.

“The unity and universality of women from around the world transcends race, language, and class,” Robbins said. “The opportunity for women to sing together balances the history books that have favored male musicians. We are all creative beings. While women’s realities in various parts of the world are challenged or restricted, there is always something to celebrate. The core is love, spirit, and our essential oneness.” Today we know this music as “World Music.” We can be thankful to Libana for assisting in its birth and development.

Sue Robbins knew from an early age that singing was at the core of her spiritual path.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, she returned with her family to New England and eventually came to Cape Cod, where she graduated from Dennis-Yarmouth High. “I wasn’t happy with being taken from my friends junior year and having to fit into a new community,” she reflected. A year later she was studying voice and music education at UMass Amherst.

Her interest in music and instruments from different cultures grew during the time she was with Alexander’s Feast. From her bedroom window in Cambridge she could hear the Arabic music from the belly dancing at the restaurant below. (“Wow! that is so cool.”) She bought an “oud,” an Arabic stringed instrument that goes back to Spanish Medieval times with its Moorish influence.

Sue’s studio in Somerville is a delightful open space for rehearsals, dance and other community artistic ventures. When she shuts the heavy door she enters her own world of music, art and wonder. Throughout the space is fabric art from different countries that Libana has performed in: India, West Africa and Turkey.

While feasting on our delicious Peruvian chicken, we recalled how we met at an 11-day workshop two summers ago in the breathtaking hills of Umbria, Italy. Sue was our accompanist for the 19 singers that gathered from all over the world. Many of us, including myself, had never performed a solo piece. Sue took the songs we chose, put them in the best key and helped us draw out our full authentic voices. Many afternoons Sue led us in an energetic group sing of songs from different cultures.

Another face of Libana’s music is in their connection and commitment to global justice. Relationships have been cultivated as they shared songs together, leading to support organizations that assist women in villages practicing traditional arts. Barefoot College in rural Rajasthan is an innovative place that trains village grandmothers in solar electricity. This knowledge allows the women to illuminate their villages. This in turn empowers the women as leaders in their communities and allows girls and women to learn to read and write in the evenings. Libana also supports SEWA, Self Employed Women’s Association, in Gujarat. Artisans, health care workers and street vendors are learning a new model of unionization and business skills. In Bulgaria, Libana toured in 1996, returned in 2008 sharing songs, dancing, and partying with the “babis” or elders who live close to the earth in secluded areas. International Fair Trade items will be available for purchase at the Cape concert.

LIBANA in CONCERT! – Sunday, April 21, at 3 p.m. in the Chatham UU Meeting House, 819 Main St.; 508-945-2075. $12 in advance, $15 at the door (seniors 65+ kids 12 & under: $10 in advance, $12 at the door)

Reprinted with permission from The Barnstable Patriot

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