Clouds of Joy Lift Spiritual Fest

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It required one word to title Sunday’s World Festival ’99 concert at the Hollywood Bowl: “Hallelujah!” But it was a good one, and in principle a useful organizing theme for a concert devoted to the powerful energies in spiritual music from various parts of the globe.

In practice, however, the program had a somewhat bifurcated quality. The first half, for example, had a quality that reached beyond language and into the use of spiritual music as the vehicle for an intense inner voyage. The Armenian Festival Ensemble--eight duduk players, two singers and a percussionist--performed a collection drawn from one of the world’s most ancient sacred musics. And the sound of the duduk, a melodically flexible, emotionally intense, oboe-like instrument, especially in ensemble grouping, was utterly gripping, generating a hushed, captivated reaction from the crowd.

Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, nephew and designated musical heir of the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, added a more vigorous spiritual overview with a program of passionate qawwali singing. Although Khan started in a fairly low-key fashion, he soon moved into a passionate mode, playing a group of short pieces that provided a brief glimpse of the music’s trance-like potential.


The program’s second half took a sudden turn in a far more contemporary direction with the arrival of two gospel ensembles, the Campbell Brothers with Katie Jackson, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. The Campbells’ unique sound, featuring two steel guitars, combined especially well with Jackson’s ecstatic singing.

But the starring role belonged to the Clouds who, with dynamic lead singer Joe Ligon, have been in the vanguard of “funkified” gospel since the ‘60s. Effectively demonstrating the inspirational capacity of gospel music to deliver an energizing spiritual experience, they brought the crowd to their feet in hand-clapping, body-moving bursts of enthusiasm.