Throughout October, Multiflora Productions is presenting the second annual Flash of the Spirit Worldwide Sound Festival, a celebration of immigrant communities through music. Groups native to countries such as Ethiopia, Mali, Puerto Rico, Ukraine, and Syria—to name just a few—will perform at different venues throughout the District, including at Georgetown.
As part of a collaboration between Multiflora Productions and the Georgetown University Department of Performing Arts, Turning Jewels Into Water is coming to McNeir Auditorium on Oct. 19. The emerging duo is unparalleled in its synthesis of cultural inspiration and experimental, electronic elements. An installment in the department’s Friday Music Series, their performance aligns well with the series’ aim to create cultural empathy and understanding through music.
Professors Benjamin Harbert and David Molk, who organize the Friday Music Series, have worked with Multiflora’s owner and director Jim Thomson for a few years to bring diverse artists to Georgetown. The series is free and open to the public, attracting students, faculty members, and music lovers from the community.
Multiflora Productions is a multifaceted and multicultural agency that promotes emerging international musicians from abroad and local musicians with the goal of celebrating the stories, heritage, and cultures of immigrant communities. Harbert categorized the partnership between Georgetown and Multiflora as a “win-win” situation, beneficial for both the campus and the musicians.
“I always check in with Jim before a season starts to ask him what he’s excited about and what’s going on, and it does two things,” Harbert said. “It brings great music here and to campus. But it also helps out the greater D.C. area by giving a guaranteed slot and payment for musicians who come in because, as an institution, Georgetown can financially support musicians.”
Harbert was not familiar with Turning Jewels Into Water before Thomson’s introduction, but he was quickly impressed by the band’s international perspective, citing them as the perfect choice to perform at Georgetown.
“They are the epitome of global musicians. They also span that difference between really engaging electronic music with a global sensibility,” Harbert said.
Turning Jewels Into Water consists of percussionist Ravish Momin and Haitian experimental electronic artist Val Jeanty, who goes by Val-Inc. They are a self-described “beat-and-ritual-based project” rooted in improvisation.
Momin was born in India and grew up in different parts of the world, including the Middle East, England, and Australia. He draws heavily from these diverse cultural backgrounds in his work.
“I would say it’s very organic; it’s not a conscious process of, ‘oh I’ll take a third of this and sixteenth of this,’ but obviously everything that you encounter in your day-to-day affects what you think about and how you approach things,” Momin said. “Growing up in India and learning all these Indian rhythms [has been influential] but growing up in all these different environments has made me globally aware.”
Jeanty, meanwhile, explores the ancient rhythms and pulses of Haiti through digital beats—taking inspiration from the Haitian religion Vodou. Together, the two create a unique synthesis in an attempt to, according to their website, “expose the esoteric realms of the creative subconscious” through a digital format. Or as Momin describes, they are “trying to create electronic dance music, but trying to make it organic.”
Turning Jewels Into Water’s emphasis on cultural relevance and connection differentiates it from other electronic dance music groups. The music isn’t a feel-good arrangement of pulses for a Saturday night rager; it’s distinctly multiethnic and at times downright chilling. Their EP, Which Way Is Home, is a collection of complex and artistic tracks for those willing to holistically experience the refreshingly exploratory elements that Jeanty and Momin blend together.
Momin describes his and Jeanty’s music as “folk music from nowhere.”
“Folk music to me means connection to the people,” Momin explained. “I want to challenge people’s concepts of folk music, of music from nowhere. I get inspired by people coming up to me saying ‘I hear Indian rhythms, I hear Haitian chants.’”
Thomson believes in an intersection between politics and culture. He began the Flash of the Spirit Festival last year but feels that the event’s message and themes are more important than ever right now, given the charged political debate surrounding immigration.
Working with the different groups in the lineup for the festival brought the relevance of the series’ themes home for Thomson. Many of the bands and artists are former immigrants who are now U.S. citizens or people living in America who are here on work visas or green cards. According to Thomson, these individuals and their diverse backgrounds are representative of the fabric and culture of the U.S.
Thomson does not see himself as a political person, but he feels that current political issues have permeated and affected the realms of art and music to a degree that cannot be ignored.
“I feel like the [more] you’re involved in the arts, you’re going to get to that intersection at some point. I’m not a person that’s going to attach a political sticker to everything but just inevitably it kind of crosses that line. I find that recently, I just have wanted to take a stand because I feel a deep sensitivity to inclusivity,” Thomson said.
Momin and Jeanty find particular interest in exploring the conflicts posed by dual and multicultural identities.
“We’re both American citizens, but it’s really about questioning—not necessarily trying to make a political statement,” Momin said. “Which way is home—as a person of hybrid identity, as a person who was displaced due to climate change? We’re trying to address all these things. It’s very much connected to the name of the band, it’s very much connected to who we are.”
Turning Jewels Into Water appears as part of a diverse lineup of bands, films, and exhibits scheduled for the Flash of the Spirit Festival. The musical groups include Fendika, an Ethiopian music and dance group; Quatro na Bossa, a Brazilian band that performs music from the ’50s and ’60s; and La Marvela, an all-women band that draws inspiration from Colombian Afro and indigenous rhythms.
The Flash of the Spirit Festival will also showcase global films. On Oct. 16, Bad Suns Cinema will present Burkinabè Rising, which concerns creative, political, and nonviolent resistance to government oppression in Burkina Faso, a small, landlocked country in West Africa. A Q&A session with the brother of the revolutionary leader who was killed in a coup d’état in 1987 will follow the film.
Installations like 1,001 Syrian Nights will decorate D.C. for the duration of the festival. The exhibit is a presentation of Jason Hamacher’s pre-war photos of Syria, consisting of 10 large pieces depicting Aleppo’s skyline before it was destroyed. A meet and greet with Syrian musicians who are scheduled to perform at the Kennedy Center will be held on Oct. 12.
While the Flash of the Spirit Festival is a month-long array of events celebrating different cultures and identities, it is also a reflection on the composition of various societies and their struggles. It is a unique opportunity to explore and understand places that are normally not profiled nor highlighted. The Flash of the Spirit may only be in its second year, but it has the potential makings for a celebrated D.C. tradition.