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Arts: SF World Music Festival Stops at Ashkenaz By KEN BULLOCK Special to the Planet

Friday October 07, 2005

Dona Rosa, a blind fado singer from Portugal, and Azerbaijani Ashuq vocalists Gulare Azafli and Zulfiyye Ibadova will bring the San Francisco World Music Festival to Berkeley’s Ashkenaz, as part of Ashkenaz’s “Taproots & New Growth” series, Sunday at 8:15 p.m. 

Preceding the show, at 7 p.m., Anna Oldfield Senarslan, a scholar of Azerbaijan culture, will give a lecture on Ashuq style music. 

A street singer who sings her own version of the plaintive Portuguese national song, fado, Rosa has sung in the subway and in pedestrian tunnels in Lisbon, where she was homeless, for years. Her blindness was the result of a childhood illness which her family couldn’t afford medicine to treat. 

A British producer heard her a few years ago, and she has since recorded several times. 

“I saw her featured at a conference on world music in Berlin in 2000, and have wanted to bring her here ever since,” said Michael Santoro, festival cofounder and coproducer (with KPFA world music presenter Kutay Derin Kugay). “She has her own special musical sense, the soul of the streets of Lisbon.”  

Female Ashuq singers like Gulare Asafli and Zulfiyye Ibadova are unusual in Azerbaijan, where the male singers in this venerable, virtuoso troubadour tradition are highly honored. 

“Gulare Asafli’s father was a famous Ashuq singer and forbade his daughter to sing it,” Santoro said. “She learned by listening to him with his students and practicing by herself until she learned the repertoire. She’s become the matriarch of the woman Ashuqs, helping many younger ones, taking them under her wing. Zulfiyye Ibadova sings and is famed for her saz playing.” 

The saz is a stringed instrument the singers play to accompany themselves.  

Anna Oldfield Senarslan, who will give the talk on Ashuq style before the show, arranged a house concert in Baku, Azerbaijan, when Kugay and she was doing field work in Turkey, Persia and Azerbaijan. Little known in the west, this style originated with itinerant bards singing oral histories. 

“There were six or seven singers, so powerful, and unexpected,” Senarslan said. “They were very different from the male singers. We were blown away, and knew we had to bring at least two to the festival, the two best known.” 

Celebrating its sixth anniversary, the San Francisco World Music Festival was founded by Santoro and Kugay. They met when Kugay began playing artists on his Monday KPFA program that Santoro featured at his live music series in the basement of the Clarion Music Center in San Francisco Chinatown from 1995. 

“We’re now beginning to get the funding to do field work, so we travel more and more,” Santoro said. “I specialize mostly in East and Southeast Asian music, Kutay, of course, in Middle Eastern. It’s a complicated balance, sometimes. There’re so many cultures that don’t get along with each other. We have to break through a lot of boundaries.” 

The festival continues through Oct. 16 at a variety of San Francisco venues, except for Berkeley’s Ashkenaz in San Francisco. The festival includes performers, film and video from cultures including Armenian, Assyrian, Chilean, Kurdish, Persian, Taiwanese, Turkish and Ukrainian, as well as lectures and talks on music and culture. 



Dona Rosa, Gulare Azafli and Zulfiyye Ibadova will perform at Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center, 1317 San Pablo Ave., Sun. Oct. 9 at 8:15 p.m. with a lecture at 7 p.m. $15-18. For more information, see www.sfworldmusicfest.org or call (415) 561-6571.