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OneBeat Residency Brings The Worlds Best Musicians To The Montalvo Arts Center

In Music
Neil Chua, a Ruan player from Klang, Malaysia, is one of the musicians participating in this year’s OneBeat at the Montalvo Arts Center. Photo courtesy Neil Chua.

Neil Chua, a Ruan player from Klang, Malaysia, is one of the musicians participating in this year’s OneBeat at the Montalvo Arts Center. Photo courtesy Neil Chua.

For the past two weeks, the Montalvo Arts Center has been the host of the OneBeat international music consortium and residency program. Montalvo has served as a temporary home, recording studio and performance space for 25 musicians, aged 19-35, from all over the world. They’ve come together to share the musical traditions of their respective cultures with one another, write and record new music, and discuss strategies for using that music to make the world a better place.

The former home of James D. Phelan—who served as the 25th mayor of San Francisco and a U.S. Senator from California from 1915 to 1921—Villa Montalvo is the site of the Montalvo Arts Center, a privately owned, non-profit organization dedicated to the development of the arts, literature and music.

OneBeat culminates in a music festival this Sunday, in which the artists will play a series of shows in various rooms and outdoor spaces around Montalvo’s grounds, before gathering for a larger ensemble concert in the Garden Theatre. Over the course of the day, attendees will be able to roam the 175-acre estate—dropping in on the more intimate performances, chatting with the artists and enjoying food from a variety of on-site food trucks.

It’s all part of an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs called OneBeat, which one of the program’s organizers describes as a “musical exchange”—a way to create a meaningful dialog between countries and perhaps even lead to better international relations.

“It’s a form of cultural diplomacy,” says Jeremy Thal, co-founder of OneBeat. “It’s a powerful way for people to really understand where others are coming from, both from a personal perspective and a political perspective.”

And that’s why Thal believes the Department of State has a vested interest in the program. “They are looking for creative ways to bring about peace and teach understanding throughout the world,” he says. The U.S. government attempts to achieve this goal in many ways, such as setting up embassies around the world and sending high-ranking officials to global summits.

OneBeat has a different approach, Thal explains. “They call it people-to-people diplomacy.” By connecting these musicians and allowing them to work with each other and develop organic and authentic relationships, the hope is that they will return to their countries of origin not just with some great new music, but also with a greater appreciation for other cultures. “We feel the common humanity, across political barriers, or simply become aware of the creativity, the ingenuity and the beauty that’s coming from other people in other countries.”

By way of example, Thal recalled a relationship that was forged at last year’s OneBeat between a Nigerian and a Russian. According to Thal, the Nigerian said he had the impression that all Russians were “cruel and serious.” That is, of course, until he connected with a “hilarious and good-humored” Russian beat-boxer. “He will be changed forever,” Thal says of the Nigerian musician. “He’ll take that experience back to his community and be able to broadcast it through his network and his artistic life.”

And with musicians coming to Montalvo from Russia, Cuba and Iraq, it’s not hard to imagine how the assumptions of the American participants might be challenged—and vice versa.

Kelly Sicat, director of the Lucas Artist Residency Program at the Arts Center, says she and the leadership at Montalvo feel that OneBeat is an important project that should be supported.

“It’s about understanding and respect,” Sicat says, echoing Thal’s beliefs. “I think (music and the arts) gives us an understanding of our commonality. I think it gives us an understanding of who we are as humans. I think the arts are a very important part of our cultural life—of our humanity.”

Whether OneBeat succeeds in affecting positive global change it’s sure to be a good time, according to Thal. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The OneBeat music festival will be held Sunday, Oct. 19, 11am-4pm. More info.

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