Barclay Martin and Julia Haile have known each other for years through the Kansas City music community, but they’ve never had the chance to fully collaborate. That changed recently.
Friday night, Martin and Haile will participate in “KKFI Presents: Collaborations Live! at the Folly Theater.” The show will feature performances by songwriters and performers, some working together for the first time.
“We started on some material for an earlier KKFI project,” Martin said, “but this is the first time we’ve had the chance to bring it to an audience. It has been so much fun working with Julia.”
The idea was initiated by Bill Sundahl, special events coordinator at KKFI (90.1 FM), Kansas City’s community radio station. It’s an extension of a previous collaborative project in which the performers went into a studio and recorded songs for a compilation CD that the station gives to donors during fundraisers.
“We wanted to do live performances for the first project, but it didn’t work out,” Sundahl said. “This time we chose to do the performances live onstage and record them. That will be the next collaborative CD.”
Sundahl contacted several musicians and performers and asked them whom they’d most like to work with. The final list is impressive.
In addition to Martin (the Barclay Martin Ensemble and the Snow Globes) and Haile (the Buhs and Hi-Lux), performers will be singer/songwriters Kelley Hunt and Jeff Black; folk harpist Calvin Arsenia and Quixotic; Enrique Chi of Making Movies with students of the Arts and Mentorship program and a student from the UMKC Music Conservatory; Bolivian folk musician Amado Espinoza and the gypsy jazz ensemble Hot Club KC; and the jazz ensemble A La Mode with the Burlesque Downtown Underground troupe. Each performance will average 15 minutes.
Two films will be shown as well: “Films of Iberica,” a documentary by filmmaker Matthew Dunehoo about the Kansas City group Ensemble Iberica; and “The Topeka Freedom Singers,” a documentary by filmmaker and musician Mikal Shapiro about blues singer Rita Chiarelli and the choir she assembled at the Topeka Women’s Prison. That film was part of this year’s Folk Alliance International artist-in-residency project.
“The show will be about more than two musicians collaborating,” Sundahl said. “With the films, it will show other ways people in the arts community can work together.”
The process already has been enlightening and rewarding to the performers. For Martin, it provided a chance to work with someone he has admired for years but who approaches music in ways that differ from his.
“I became aware of Julia through the Good Foot, and I was struck by her phrasing and the way she delivers lines,” he said. “I’ve loved (rehearsing) with Julia for her presence and her voice but also for the way it stretches me beyond my own writing patterns into something that’s becoming an interesting blend of us both.”
Haile and Martin brought each other an original song to work with. Both songs are personal and spiritual, Martin said.
“I love it when music can be personal,” he said. “My hope is that people can see themselves in these songs as well.”
Hunt and Black have known each other for decades, but this will be their first collaboration.
“We’ve been on the same bill before,” Hunt said. “Jeff did an opening set for me years ago at Liberty Hall, then joined us in my set for a rousing version of his song ‘Town Topic.’ But we’ve never written together.”
The process has been transforming, even for a seasoned songwriter like Hunt.
“Any time you try to really understand, really feel, another writer’s work from the inside out, it changes your perspective,” she said. “Before you can decide how you would interpret their work … you have to understand the song the way they do. It has been interesting to hear what Jeff has to say about some of his songs and how he’s reacted to mine. It’s a good exercise in open-minded collaboration.”
Chi’s experience is different from the others. He will act more as a mentor for the performers.
“I will be in the background supporting two young songwriters, Kara Moulders and Regina Sanchez, as they perform their original works,” he said. “Both are teenagers and both write with a depth and wisdom beyond their years. Hillary Sametz from UMKC will play viola to their compositions.”
Chi said working with teenagers and young adults awakened something internally.
“This process has been inspiring for me because I feel that kids write better than adults in a lot of ways,” he said. “As a songwriter, your goal is to channel magic, to connect to something bigger than you and channel it. … Kids seem to have less junk that could clog the channels to the source. It has been humbling for me to be around and work with them. Kara and Regina both have this magic.”
Magic comes close to describing what transpired between Haile and Martin.
“I love the challenge that comes with working with an artist you’ve only had a few encounters with,” Haile said. “It’s exciting and it takes you out of your own realm of writing and how you think of the music you’re producing.
“I love Barclay’s style and how he expresses himself with his message. This has definitely inspired me to think outside my regular thought process and whatever else I might be capable of.”
“KKFI Presents: Collaborations Live!” Folly Theatre, 300 W. 12th St. 7 p.m. $20-$40. follytheater.org