Jamming Like a Refugee Camp at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center’s Jordana Leigh, who’d booked last night’s New York debut by pan-global folk group Translucent Borders, explained that the NYU-sponsored ensemble had pulled a set together after only playing together for four days. NYU’s Andy Teirstein explained that the project grew out of the refugee camps on the islane of Lesbos in 2016. The group he’d assembled to play for the refugees there had the expected impact: it became a magnet for like-minded players and dancers from throughout the camp, and unexpected connections were made. “Musicians like crossing borders,” he observed dryly.

Palestinian singer Amal Murkus gave the show an all-too-brief coda with a trio of songs in Arabic. Modulating meticulous microtones and mining her midrange for every bit of angst she could evoke, she intoned an impassioned exile ballad over Firas Zreik‘s pointillistically haunting kanun. A considerably darker, more atmospheric, poignant tone poem of sorts was next, Zreik brushing the strings of his instrument for a surreal autoharp-like effect. Murkus wound up the concert with a warm Palestinian lullaby that she introduced by reminding the crowd how utterly surreal it was. She didn’t namecheck Gaza, but the message had mighty resonance. Then she led the group – also comprising cellist Mariel Roberts and conguero Francisco Mora-Catlett – on a long, bittersweet upward path interrupted by a surreal conga break.

Reaching a transcendent ending was a work in progress, which was to be expected, given the lack of rehearsal time. Ghanian fiddler Meirigah Abubakari vamped and pounced. Nyckelharpa players Marco Ambrosini and his daughter duetted on a stately, baroque-tinged theme for the resonant Nordic fiddle before Roberts added a muted bassline and the theme morphed into a lively waltz or two. Israeli oudist Yair Dalal was joined by percussionist Muhammad Mugrabi and accordionist Neta Weiner of Israeli hip-hop band System Ali for a couple of spare, moody taqsims, a broodingly serpentine levantine theme and a multilingual mashup of klezmer and Wu-Tang hardcore rap.

Translucent Borders are at the NYU’s Crystal Theater at 111 Second Avenue between 6th & 7th streets tomorrow night, June 29 at 7:30; the show is free. And the mostly-weekly free Lincoln Center atrium concerts at the Broadway space north of 62nd St. continue on July 5 at 7:30 PM with Haitian Creole singer Melissa Laveaux and the amazing Guadeloupe/New Orleans duo Delgres, who blend duskcore guitar and second-line grooves.

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