Eugene Weekly : Music : 11.26.08

Holiday Sounds and More
Great-plosion of talent to finish the year
by Brett Campbell

Politically paralyzed, economically bankrupt but always musically bountiful, Zimbabwe is sending its newest generation of musical stars to seek success in the West. One of the most promising is Bongo Love, making its second visit to Eugene this year. The upbeat band of 20-somethings uses the traditional instruments of the Shona people — marimba and mbira (the metal, harp-like thumb piano) — to create original, contemporary, extremely danceable “Afro-coustic” songs, and sings them in English, Shona and Ndebele.

Thomas Mapfumo

This concert represents a kind of torch passing, since their guest is Afro-pop pioneer Thomas Mapfumo, who rose to stardom in Zimbabwe in the 1960s and ’70s, singing revolutionary songs that formed the soundtrack to the anti-apartheid revolution that eventually overthrew then-Rhodesia’s white government. Mapfumo found his way to Eugene when he wrote songs criticizing the creeping totalitarianism of dictator-president Robert Mugabe, who retaliated with economic and physical threats and reprisals, including killing a couple of Mapfumo’s band members. His brilliant, danceable blend of American R&B and Southern African mbira music have earned him a permanent place in the musical history books; he’s unquestionably the most famous musician in Eugene and one of the greatest in the world. It’ll be fascinating to see two generations of Zimbabwean musicians combining African and American musical forms at the WOW Hall on Nov. 28.

Speaking of the next generation, you can hear Oregon Children’s Choirs and Marimba Bands playing holiday music from various cultures, including Zimbabwean music. Students from local elementary through high schools will be performing at the Festival of Trees at Valley River Inn on Nov. 30 and at the UO Holiday Concert on Dec. 14. Music director Randall Moore started it all with a single choir 26 years ago and it’s become a Eugene musical institution worth celebrating.

Another holiday musical tradition, the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble’s English Madrigal Dinner, featuring Byrdsong Early Music Consort, returns Dec. 5 and 6 at St. Paul’s Parish Hall, 1201 Satre Street. And so does the Oregon Mozart Players’ annual Candlelight Concert, which features some of the most famous music of the Baroque era, Handel’s majestic Water Music, J.S. Bach’s equally opulent first orchestral suite and an early-20th-century imitation of 17th century music, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, which only shows how much grander the originals were.

Pre-classical music is also on the menu at what’s bidding to become another tradition: the Aulos Ensemble’s Dec. 7 visit to the UO’s Beall Concert Hall. Soprano Julianne Baird has been leading the period-instrument pioneers’ touring Baroque holiday program for years — this will be a new version — and, over three-plus decades, it’s become a popular perennial. So has the University Gospel Ensembles holiday show, which usually sells out; it’s Dec. 6 at Beall. And that same afternoon, there’s still more early music at the UO Collegium Musicum’s Collier House concert, featuring music of composers who inspired J.S. Bach: Schutz, Schein, Buxtehude and others. Beall hosts the school’s happily unconventional holiday choral concert, featuring the UO Chamber and Concert Choirs and University Singers in music from Africa, Brazil and other lands, along with a few traditional carols, on Dec. 5.

The UO does offer some non-holiday sounds. On Dec. 1 at Beall, the Hunsberger-Wilson Trio presents the unusual combo of tuba, horn and piano in music by the great film composer Alec Wilder, Bach (Jan, a modern composer, not any of those old guys), Trygve Madsen and the great jazz composer Roger Kellaway. Student chamber groups will play music by another jazz great, Paquito D’Rivera, by the great Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos, and music from the Cuban avant garde at a Dec. 3 concert at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. On Dec. 6, the University Percussion Ensemble plays music of the great West Coast ultramodernist pioneer, Henry Cowell, and other works, including a world premiere.