Saturday, March 24

A Springtime Showcase

World music festival instills cultural insight on performers, audience


After three quarters of tireless rehearsing, the World Music
performance ensembles of UCLA’s ethnomusicology department
are finally ready to show their stuff. In this year’s
five-night Spring Festival of World Music, the ensembles will
perform song and dance from cultures as far ranging as Africa and

Under the direction of master musicians who have trained and
performed extensively in the musical traditions of their ethnic
background, UCLA students have spent time learning indigenous
melodies and rhythms, and their cultural significance. The festival
aims not only to delight listeners with its unique sounds but also
to expose them to the colorful heritage of many of the

“I think (the festival) is a good way for people to gain
an understanding of a culture,” Director of the Music of
China Chi Li said. “Music is an easier way to
communicate with each other, so if you watch (and listen to)
Chinese music you can feel familiar with the culture.”

Li, who has directed the Music of China Ensemble for the past
five years, has students from all different ethnic backgrounds who
often start with no knowledge of Chinese musicianship. Li makes
sure to inform her students of the historical context of each piece
before she teaches it.

“If you don’t have the culture background, you
cannot understand the music and you cannot perform it
correctly,” Li said.  “Chinese music is not just a
simple finger technique, what is most important is to understand
the cultural background.”

Director of the Music of West Africa Kobla Ladzekpo echoed
similar sentiments regarding the importance of the culture behind
the music. 

“Our culture has for so many years been misrepresented by
people who don’t actually understand it but think they
do,” Ladzekpo said. “People like myself are trying to
teach American people the true nature of our culture.”

Ladzekpo’s ensemble will perform songs from the tribes of
Ghana, Togo and Bini, and in keeping with the traditions of
authentic African music, the performance will incorporate
percussion, dance and voice.  Ladzekpo emphasized the
underlying importance of percussion in African music, explaining
the drums’ rhythms as a form of language.

“The drums talk to the dancer and give (the dancer) the
directive force,” Ladzekpo said. “The dancers’
movements are not just something they have memorized, they are
something coming directly from the drum.”

The Music of Bali, Korea, China and Afro-Cuban Ensembles also
incorporate dance as an integral feature of their performance. The
Chinese ribbon dance, symbolic of good luck and happiness, and the
500- year-old Korean court dance “Kain Chon Mok Gan”
(meaning “beautiful lady picking peony flowers”) are
just some of the festival’s highlights.

“These are traditional cultures which have an idea of
music (different from) classical European music or even
jazz,” UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology Chair’s
Assistant Donna Armstrong said. “Often they don’t
separate music and dance, and if the culture doesn’t believe
it should be separated then we incorporate the two. The movements
express the sound in a visual way through a three-dimensional

For those acts that don’t include choreography,
traditional costumes and a wide range of instruments will keep the
evening visually exciting. Bulgarian folk music, a female a
cappella choir, Chinese opera and Mariachi are just a few more
spectacles on display at an event that has something to offer to
patrons of any musical taste.

For information see:,
or call the UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology at (310)

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