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Pendulums on Pendulums: SXSW Overflows and Blurs All the Way to Global Music

“World Music” presence at SXSW is nothing new. But while others complain about the oversaturation of brands, bands, and fans at the Austin mega-fest, we at rock paper scissors feel it has jumped the shark beyond the shark so far we are now in a beautiful diverse pool of musical paradise. When anything goes, global music marks the furthest reaches of innovation.

"I went to SXSW for the first time several years ago to check the global music presence and impact,” says rock paper scissors founder Dmitri Vietze. “I was overwhelmed by the experience and underwhelmed by the global music visibility. But now I have been back a few times in a row and the 'worse' it gets, the stronger the niches matter and start to fill up again. It is a pendulum on a pendulum on a pendulum. And the directions they spin in are unpredictable.”

Taj Weekes & Adowa at SXSW Rock Paper Scissors showcase at Russian HouseFor rock paper scissors' inaugural SXSW showcase, we teamed up with veteran SXSW presenters globalFEST and WOMEX to create a combined marketing effort. Since our showcases were on three separate sequential nights, our collaboration made for a roaming home for the globalista tribes and world-curious festival-goers at three intriguing (and packed) venues around downtown Austin.

SXSW buzz was plentiful for our showcasing acts. The Kumbia Queers got spotlights in the Austin ChronicleKCRW, and Digame247.com. SPIN told readers to catch Dudu Tassa and Taj Weekes at our showcase, and Rhapsody did the same with Kumbia Queers and TriBeCaStan, who also had preview attention at Zimbio.com. K.i.T. captured hearts with their sounds, beats, and looks here and here.

Tinariwen at globalFEST SXSW at Speakeasy“We have worked hard to develop all genres of music at SXSW,” says Todd Puckhaber, from the SXSW Music Programming team. “One of my personal passions is ‘world music.’ So much of the modern music we hear today stems from indigenous sounds from around the world. Every year we have key, established players alongside developing to mid level artists. This is the SXSW model and we are very pleased that once again, we had so many wonderful world music artists at SXSW.” WOMEX Director Alexander Walter softly adds, “The world music showcases and stages at SXSW 2014 were of exceptional quality. The diversity of styles has been even broader than in the past editions and made people smile and dance.”

Dudu Tassa at rock paper scissors SXSW showcase at Russian HouseWhen all was said and done, the press was all over global music at SXSW 2014. Rolling Stone Argentina gave the rock paper scissors showcase a nice shout-out while naming the Kumbia Queers and Dudu Tassa as festival favorites.  SXSW marketing staffer Luann Williams raved about Dudu Tassa on her personal Facebook page:  “My favorite discovery at SXSW and a testament to the (very much needed this week) healing power of music.” Twenty-six year radio veteran Michael Crockett (of KUT’s weekly Global Grooves and Horizontes programs) posted to Facebook as well: “The best showcase I attended, thanks to the energy and talent of the artists and the enthusiasm of the packed audience.”

Even though the Wall Street Journal thought SXSW was out of balance, they singled out our showcase as an example of the balanced side of the week, saying, “on Saturday night, in a program at Russian House that included bands from Argentina, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands, TriBeCaStan, a group of downtown New York musicians, paid tribute to the late jazz trumpeter Don Cherry with a West African-influenced number that featured the hulusi, a Chinese flute. These performances relieved, at least temporarily, the unavoidable conclusion that most musicians might have invested their time more fruitfully in a place where music was the primary focus of attention.”

globalFest acts Tinariwen and Imarhan Timbuktu were spotlighted by Rolling Stone’s “48 Best Things We Saw at SXSW” and the Austin Chronicle. NPR included SA Tribe Called Red at rock paper scissors SXSW showcase at Russian Houseergio Mendoza y la Orkesta in their “Heavy Rotation: 10 SXSW Discoveries Public Radio Can't Stop Playing” as well as in their “Austin 100” download mix preview, along with Imarhan Timbuktu. Texas Public Radio interviewed Lo’Jo and Taj Weekes. Additional coverage of our showcases showed up in National Geographic, Generation Bass, Wobeon, and World Music Central

Even those who think SXSW is doomed had great things to say about this year’s world music presence!

 “This was the year that world music seemed to really embed itself as part of the substance of SXSW, and the press response seemed to agree that the alternative sounds that were provided in the various global showcases were among the freshest artists heard at SXSW,” says Bill Bragin, co-director of globalFEST and director of public programming at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts “The collaborative marketing efforts served to really help fans of global music get thru the noise and clutter to find nightly showcases of interest.”

K.i.T. at rock paper scissors SXSW showcase at Russian House“There was a good balance of roots and hybrids that spoke to the odd mix of people in music discovery mode,” adds Vietze. “Major media outlets, local tastemakers, and industry players are glad to explore the fringes and it seems to be having a positive impact on the so-called world music field."

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