Barclay Martin’s latest project took him to another continent, where the role of music is as spiritual as it is eminent and indigenous.
Martin spent much of July in Madagascar, documenting the country’s music traditions. He was accompanied by Giuliano Mingucci, Martin’s drummer in the Barclay Martin Ensemble, and a videographer and sound engineer by trade. Together they accumulated the sights and sounds of their 24-day excursion. This weekend at the Living Room, 1818 McGee St., they will present a multimedia program that represents part of their introduction to the music of Madagascar.
The show is called “Unbound Presents Hemispheres: Sound Photographs from Madagascar” and its intent is to give its viewers a taste of the music culture that Martin and Mingucci witnessed during their visit.
“They are super musical and not in the sense that they have a music tradition and folk tunes carried down from generations,” Martin said.
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“There is that, but a really big part of their culture is they write a lot and make up songs. Everybody seems to sing and they have really sophisticated vocal harmonies. And they have music influences from everywhere.”
The two-day event at the Living Room, Martin said, is a way to “release a CD without a band” — a description that is a bit misleading. None of the musicians from Madagascar will be present, but there will be live music. Martin and Mingucci will be joined by their bassist in BME, Rick Willoughby, plus Lindsey Jones, who performs with Martin and Willoughby in the Snow Globes, a holiday-music trio.
The quartet will perform five songs, all written for the project by some of the more than 200 people Martin and Mingucci visited with during their stay. All songs will be sung in the native Malagasy.
“We had to memorize it all phonetically,” Martin said. “It was kind of crazy it was so hard.”
They will also employ some traditional Malagasy instruments, including a seven-string banjo and a guitar called the kabosy; Martin came across one in Raytown, of all places.
“I bought a traditional Malagasy banjo on the street and I took it to Dave Booker, an instrument builder in Raytown,” Martin said. “I asked him if he could make (the banjo) more playable. Then I was telling him about going to Madagascar and he told me he’d made a traditional Malagasy guitar a few years ago. It was incredibly random and he loaned it to me, this beautiful traditional instrument.”
The music performance will begin at 8 p.m. each night. To enhance the live show, Martin enlisted the help of Anthony Magliano and Mica Thomas of Quixotic Fusion, who have added visual elements, including video projections on a scrim that will hang between the band and the audience.
“We wanted to make this more than just four people from Kansas City standing there and playing these songs,” Martin said.
“There’s such a beautiful story to tell about these songs. We wanted to convey that so there’s a multimedia element. Quixotic is so good at that. We’ll mix images of the environment where this music was created with us playing the music live.”
The rest of the presentation involves 20 photographs that Mingucci and Martin took on their trip. To enhance that experience, Martin consulted with Kansas City artist Chris Jones Dahlquist. Instead of just photographs hanging on a wall, they devised another plan.
Viewers with a smart phone can scan a Quick Response code that will contain a narration about the story of each photograph lasting from 30 seconds to a minute. They can then listen via a set of headphones provided with each photo.
“We wanted viewers to get a deeper dive into the story of each photograph,” Martin said. “With each one you can listen to a different narrator talking about what was going on at the time. It takes it to the next level of telling the story surrounding the photograph. It’s pretty stunning. We ended up with some killer photos.”
Also available will be copies of the CD “Voices of Unbound: Madagascar.” Proceeds benefit Unbound, the nonprofit agency for which Martin works. Specifically, the money will go to music scholarships for children in the 21 nations where Unbound is active.
“In essence, all the musicians involved in this have donated their time and their art and were proud to do this so that kids they will never meet have the opportunity to go to school,” Martin said. “It’s such a beautiful story.”
The lesson of that story, Mingucci said, is how important and unifying music is in the Malagasy culture.
“I learned a lot about the basic desire to make music and why people do it,” Mingucci said. “People in Madagascar were taking time out of their very busy lives to help us. They knew that this project … was going to help send young people to school so they were eager to help in any way they could.
“Again, showing that generosity is not about how much you have, but a desire to help others. Music is a unique vehicle for that in so many capacities.”
Friday and Saturday
“Unbound Presents Hemispheres: Sound Photographs from Madagascar” from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday at the Living Room, 1818 McGee St. The event is free. The live-music performance will be at 8 p.m. each day.