Just as the popular cooking show Chopped provides participants with surprising, and sometimes unlikely, ingredients to make a meal with on the spot, such is the challenge for the director of the Montgomery College World Ensemble every semester. In the past, they have had three cellos and a bass, without a horn section, and concentrated on boleros and tango; sometimes, such as this semester, percussion, strings, voice, piano, drums, bass, and keyboards have come together beautifully with a cello.
The course consists of students and community members of diverse ethnic and musical backgrounds who every Monday night rehearse traditional and contemporary world music. This semester, 12 musicians performed djembe drums from West Africa and Latin genres such as bossa nova, guajira, cumbia, and salsa, under the leadership of new director Samuel Munguia and resident artist Amadou Kouyate.
It all started when Professor Dawn Avery came to MC in 2002. “There were, at the time, over 167 different nationalities at the College, so I decided to start a World Music Program including a festival and an ensemble,” said Avery, now a Grammy-nominated artist. “In reflection of our diverse population, I was excited to direct music from all over the world, including Mongolia, Australia, Korea, China, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. We created a tight-knit, respectful community where we explored each other’s cultures and became a family.”
This fall, after leading the ensemble since its inception, Avery turned over the baton to Samuel Munguia, a renowned Latin and Jazz pianist. “Every semester I have to rebuild the ensemble from scratch,” Munguia said. “It depends on the group, I never know who is going to sign up, which instrumentation I’m going to have, so I have to just be open minded and work with what I have.”
Though most students stay for about two semesters in the ensemble, cellist El Szilard has been a part of it for the two years she has been at the College and has found it embraces diversity in every aspect. Most Latin jazz or world music circles would not easily find a place for her as a classic musician, much less a woman. “That matters because there is not a lot of female representation in music, particularly not in these genres.” Szilard feels fortunate to have had a chance to learn from Avery and Munguia. “They have honored the diversity of the group and of the school in a way that has promoted a broader world outlook.”
They have honored the diversity of the group and of the school in a way that has promoted a broader world outlook
That is also the view of Kouyate, the current resident artist. He comes from a family of oral historians/musicians from West Africa who have been keeping the djembe tradition alive for 150 generations. “The World Ensemble offers something very valuable to the college experience because essentially you’re stepping into other people’s worldview for a moment,” he said. Kouyate studied in Mali, Senegal, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire with master musicians of the tradition.
As for Szilard, she said the experience has shaped her perspective and approach to music and rhythm. She is graduating and moving to New York to pursue new opportunities that include playing with a new-soul afro-punk band and a Latin jazz drummer. “It has definitely helped me grow as a musician and I think it’s fantastic for all the students here and for the College. It’s a beautiful way to promote the diversity that exists here.”
Enjoy the 2016 and 2018 World Ensemble performances below:
MC World Ensemble 2016
MC World Ensemble 2018