Speaking in Tongues
Sowah Mensah; Enrique Toussaint; Marc Anderson; Gao Hong
Hosted by composer Abbie Betinis, our popular Courtroom Concerts take place at noon most Thursdays in the Landmark Center in downtown Saint Paul. This series features accomplished musicians and composers from the Twin Cities and surrounding area, as well as occasional musical newcomers to the area. These one-hour concerts are free and open to the public.
About the Program:
With superb musicianship and an infectious camaraderie, Speaking in Tongues creates an environment that is engaging and exhilarating. The collective sound of the group draws on so many sources that listeners from all walks of life can connect easily. Four outstanding musicians blend music from four different cultures on a stage full of instruments from all over the world. The result – a concert experience that is spellbinding, entertaining, and unprecedented. Speaking in Tongues is master drummer, multi-instrumentalist and composer Sowah Mensah from Ghana, Enrique Toussaint, the virtuoso bassist from Mexico City, Twin Cities master percussionist Marc Anderson, and Gao Hong, one of the world’s foremost performers on the Chinese four-stringed lute, the pipa. When considering the individual voices, one is struck by the truly distinctive quality of this music and the level of skill and musical maturity required to shape it into the spirited and the coherent musical expression that it is. Their music has been described as a West African drum ensemble driving along under the butterfly wings of an Asian melody, the romance of Brazilian jazz orchestrated with Middle Eastern drums, and folk music from a new world. Rich compositions set up by free roaming improvisations lead the listener through open landscapes of gentle rustlings and sparse instrumentation and then, with a subtle turn, plunge them into thick forests populated by percussion and bass.
About the Artists:
Speaking in Tongues is four astonishing musicians from four different cultures with four native tongues. Their performances worldwide are as diverse as the group itself, They opened a new Chinese music series at the prestigious Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam, performed at a Nobel Peace Prize Conference in America’s heartland, and have performed for enthusiastic audiences on university campuses and in concert halls throughout the U.S. Collaborations have included those with the Indian dance troupe Ragamala (in performances at Ted Mann Concert Hall and the Southern Theatre in Minneapolis); a performance with the St. Paul Civic Orchestra at Landmark Center in St. Paul; and a performance with the traditional Chinese percussion quartet Ba Da Chui and guqin (ancient Chinese zither) master Zhao Jiazhen at The O’Shaughnessy in St. Paul. They have toured China and performed at Walker Art Center and the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. A live recording they made of Gao Hong’s Quiet Forest, Flowing Stream toured the U.S. with the Science Museum of Minnesota’s Wild Sound exhibit.
Sowah Mensah is an ethnomusicologist, composer and a “Master Drummer” from Ghana, West Africa. Sowah has taught music in both Ghana and Nigeria and is currently a music professor at both Macalester College, and the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN where he also directs each school’s African Music Ensemble. In addition, he is currently a James Marsh Professor-at-Large at the University of Vermont in Burlington, VT and directs the African Music Ensemble at the University of Minnesota. Sowah is the director of Sankofa, a Ghanaian Folklore and Dance Ensemble in the Twin Cities and a member of Speaking in Tongues, a four-piece group based out of the Twin Cities that uses two percussionists, a bassist and a Chinese pipa player.
Sowah enjoys an active performance career. In August 2003 Sowah toured Beijing, China with the Kenmore Wind Ensemble from Kenmore, WA to perform his composition “Nyamo” for Band and African Ensemble where they performed at the prestigious Tsinghua University. Sowah was then invited back in June 2004 to conduct a series of workshops for high school music teachers and students. In May 2000 he made his Carnegie Hall, New York debut as a soloist in David Fanshaw’s African Sanctus.
He has performed extensively in the United States, the Latin Americas, and in Africa, where he performed with the Ghana National Symphony Orchestra. In the United States, he has performed with notables such as Max Roach, Don Chery, Roscoe Mitchel, and Julius Hemphil. He has also performed with the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra, Chanticleer, Minnesota Center Chorale, St. Paul Civic Symphony, Minnesota Sinfonia, Duluth Superior Symphony, Minnetonka Symphony Orchestra, Abendmusik: the Lincoln Chorus of Nebraska, and the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, Florida, as well as many folk festivals in the US. In addition, Sowah presents clinics, lectures, workshops, and residencies at many colleges, elementary and secondary schools, churches, and music organizations all over the United States.
Sowah is also an accomplished composer. In September 2004, Sowah re-arranged “Sii Sii Sii” for Chorus and African Drums for the Central Middle School in Cape Girardeau, MO. The piece was first commissioned for Band and Chorus and it was premiered by Oak Park Elementary School, Stillwater, MN in June 2004. “Asomdwee” written for SATB was completed in October 2003 and premiered by World Voices in December 2003 at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. In February 2003, Sowah completed “Agoo” for full Orchestra and Speaking In Tongues. This work was commissioned through the Ethnic Concerto Program of the organization International Friendship Through the Performing Arts and premiered by the St. Paul Civic Symphony and Speaking In Tongues at the St. Paul Landmark Center in May 2004. “Bronya A Ba” (Christmas Is Here) for SATB and African Drums was commissioned by The University of St. Thomas Liturgical Choir directed by Rob Strusinski. It was premiered on December 5, 2002 at the UST Chapel in St. Paul, MN. “Kunkum” for band and African Ensemble was commissioned by the Webster Magnet Elementary Honor Band of St. Paul, MN. Conducted by Diane Sollenberger, this composition was premiered on Tuesday May 7th, 2002 at the Central High School Auditorium in St. Paul, MN. In October 2001 Sowah completed “Nyamo” (Celebration for Symphonic Band, Chorus and African Ensemble). The Symphonic Band and Symphonic Choir of Kenmore Jr. High School, WA commissioned this work, which was premiered at the Washington State M.E.N.C. in Yakima, WA in February 2002. It was also performed at the National M.E.N.C. convention in Nashville, TN in April 2002. Sowah’s third solo album, Sii Sii Sii, was released in March 2007.
Eugenio Toussaint Uhthoff was born in México City on October 9, 1954. A self-taught musician, he started his performing career in 1972 as a pianist with the jazz band Odradek. In 1974 he studied privately with Jorge Perez Herrera (contemporary harmony) and Nestor Castaneda (piano technique). In 1975 he was part of the jazz band Blue Note, founded by Méxican bassist Roberto Aymes with whom he traveled all over México and recorded his first compositions in an album with the same name (Blue Note).
At the end of 1976 he founded Sacbé, one of the most important and influential bands in the history of Méxican jazz. Within the next two years the first Sacbé albums, Sacbé and Selva Tucanera were recorded and distributed independently in México and the United States. Along with brothers Enrique and Fernando Toussaint, Eugenio moved to the United States and formed a new version of Sacbé in Minneapolis.
In 1980, owing to a scholarship from the Méxican government, he moved to Los Angeles, California, to study at the Dick Grove Music School, where he met reedman Jan Crosse, with whom a new version of Sacbé was formed. This group was signed by the local Discovery/Trend label, and the next three records, namely Street Corner, Aztlan and Dos Mundos were made and distributed internationally. These albums received an excellent response from radio stations, where they were placed first in their airplay lists.
As a composer in the advertising field, he has worked for the following clients: Ford Motor Company, Chrysler de México, General Motors de méxico, Nissan Méxicana, Volkswagen de México, Bacardi y Compania, Seagrams de México, Colgate Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, Banca Serfin, Banco Ulnion, Banorte, Asemex-Banpais, Pond’s de México, Kellogg’s de México, Garci Crespo, Tabacalera Méxicana, Minsa, Maseca, Aeromexico, Secretaria de Turismo, Vidal Sassoon, Comision Federal de Electricidad, Fruit of the Loom and others.
In 2006, he wrote several works, including Tres Cuentos Infantiles for Quinteto de Alientos, Estudio Bop #7 for solo cello, commissioned and dedicated to Carlos Prieto, Concerto for Flute and Orchestra commissioned and dedicated to Marisa Canales, Palabras Sin Sonido for solo piano commissioned and dedicated to Ana Cervantes, Estudio Bop #8 for solo clarinet, and the Concerto for Improvised Piano and Orchestra (dedicated to Jesus Medina) which was performed by the Charlemagne Orchestra at the National Conservatory in Brussels, Belgium.
He also undertook various projects as a producer and arranger, namely: Un Mundo de Arrullos for Guadalupe Pineda (producer/arranger), big band arrangements for Iraida Noriega’s latest CD, two string arrangements for the Mijares/Yuri duo album, a string arrangement for a Sin Bandera album and an upcoming album by Ana Torroja, seven string arrangements for Billy McLaughlin’s comeback concerts in Minnesota, which were filmed for a special TV broadcast and DVD.
Besides his orchestral and arranging commitments, Eugenio continued to perform with his jazz TRIO in México and abroad. He also received an honorary medal for achievement in music from the conservatory at Universidad Autonoma de Tamaulipas and the Juan Jose Calatayud Medal for merits in his jazz career in Veracruz, México. The 2006 Campeche’s Jazz Festival honored Eugenio Toussaint.
Marc Dennis Anderson is an American born percussionist, composer, poet and Zen Buddhist priest. Best known for records and live performances with guitarist and composer Steve Tibbetts, he has recorded and performed with dozens of notable artists. His interests and studies in non-western instruments and musical traditions are a signature of his sound and technical style.
Anderson was born in Austin, Minnesota, the son of Truman Anderson and Mary Lou Regner. He is the oldest of 5 children. He attended Austin Central High School and holds a degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of Minnesota.
In 1977 Anderson met and began working with Steve Tibbetts who had just started working his second record. That record, titled YR, led to their first recording with the prestigious German record company ECM and legendary producer Manfred Eicher. In the fall of 1982 the two flew to Oslo, Norway and recorded Northern Song, the first of many recordings the pair would make over the next several decades. Through the 1980s and 1990s Anderson became a stalwart in the Twin Cities music community as a sideman and bandleader performing and recording in a wide range of musical and artistic environments including; free improvisation, traditional Irish, Ghanaian, Finnish and Americana folk music, experimental, avant-garde, jazz and pop. He also produced a number of records including two recordings as leader and composer: Time Fish and Ruby. He has toured extensively in the US, Europe and Asia. He was the founder of two Twin Cities musical groups: Eight head and Speaking In Tongues. His most recent musical project in called Music and Words. In the early 1980s he met Sowah Mensah, a musician and teacher from Ghana, launching a friendship and new musical direction. Anderson went on to study Ghanaian music with Mensah and with teachers in Ghana for many years. He has also studied Haitian ritual drumming with John Amira in New York, spent time with the great frame drum master Glen Velez, took study abroad trips to China and Brazil and spent several years studying tabla with Marcus Wise and djembe drumming with Foday Bangoura in the Twin Cities.
Gao Hong, Chinese pipa player and composer, began her career as a professional musician at age 12. She graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing where she studied with pipa master Lin Shicheng. She has received numerous awards and honors, including First Prize in the Hebei Professional Young Music Performers Competition, a Beijing Art Cup, an Asian Pacific Award, and grants and fellowships from the Minnesota State Arts Board, Meet the Composer and the Southeasternt Minnesota Arts Council. In 2005 Gao Hong became the first traditional musician to be awarded the prestigious Bush Artist Fellowship, and in 2019 she became the only musician in any genre to win five McKnight Artist Fellowships for Performing Musicians. In 2018 she became the first Chinese musician to win a Sally Award from the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts.
She has performed throughout Europe, Australia, Argentina, Japan, Hong Kong, China, and the United States, and has participated in the Lincoln Center Festival, San Francisco Jazz Festival and international festivals in Paris, Caen, Milan, and Perth. She has performed countless U.S. and world premieres of pipa concerti with organizations such as the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Heidelberg Philharmonic, Buenos Aires Philharmonic, China National Traditional Orchestra, China Guangdong National Orchestra, Louisville Orchestra, Hawaii Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, and the Women’s Philharmonic (San Francisco), among others. As a chamber player, she was featured as both pipa player and composer at ChamberFest Cleveland, Yellow Barn Music Festival, Carolina Chamber Music Festival, Harbin Summer Music Festival, Pittsburgh Early Music Festival and others. In 2017 she became the first Chinese musician to play the National Anthem at a Minnesota Timberwolves NBA game at Target Center in Minneapolis.
As a composer, Gao has received commissions from the American Composers Forum, Walker Art Center, the Jerome Foundation, Zeitgeist, Ragamala Dance Theater, Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, Theater Mu, IFTPA, and Twin Cities Public Television. Her composition for solo pipa, “Flying Dragon”, won the 2012 Global Music Award – Award of Excellence Solo Instrumental (Gold Medal).
In 2016, Gao Hong completed the first pipa method book ever written in English and had it published by Hal Leonard, the world’s largest print music publishing company. She teaches Chinese musical instruments and directs the Carleton Chinese Music Ensemble and the Global Music Chamber Ensemble at Carleton College in Minnesota. She is also Guest Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, China Conservatory of Music, Tianjin Conservatory of Music, and Hebei Vocational College for the Arts, and a member of the Board of Directors at the American Composers Forum and the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.
In addition to Gao Hong’s own solo performances of her compositions worldwide, her music has been performed internationally by many world class musicians. In 2000, Song of the Pipa, a play based on Gao Hong’s life and the life of Chinese poet, Bai Juyi, received 20 performances by Theater Mu and featured live musical accompaniment and new compositions by Gao Hong. In 2007 her first choral composition – “The Coming of Spring” – was one of five pieces selected out of 128 applicants nationwide for a reading session by VocalEssence. The piece was premiered by VocalEssence at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul in 2008. “Awakening” – her newly commissioned piece from the Jerome Foundation – was premiered by Gao Hong and Speaking in Tongues at Muziekgebouw aan het IJ in Amsterdam in March, 2007. In the same year she was also selected to participate in a composer’s workshop hosted by the new music ensemble, Zeitgeist, and premiered her new composition “Courage” – for pipa and percussion – with Present Music in Milwaukee. In 2008, to celebrate Gao Hong’s 35th anniversary of playing her pipa and 10 years as a composer, Hong headlined two major concerts featuring her compositions at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall and Ted Mann Hall in Minneapolis. She composed a special pipa and sitar duet with guest artists Shubhendra Rao on sitar- a top disciple of Ravi Shankar – and rising young tabla star Biplab Bhattacharya. Three of her works received their world premieres and were performed by taiko drum master Kenny Endo, David Hagedorn on percussion, cellist Michelle Kinney, Gao Hong on pipa, and Indian vocalist and veena player Nirmala Rajasekar. in 2016 Gao Hong composed her first, mixed-media comedic performance piece, “Gao Hong on the Highway” and in 2017 she composed her second mixed-media comedic performance piece “Chinglish” and Guangxi Caprice for Pipa and String Quartet.
Since her arrival in U.S. in 1994, Gao Hong has been featured in over 100 newspaper and magazine articles and four television documentaries. Her broadcast features include ABC’s “On the Road Again” with Jason Davis, the NPR radio show “Performance Today” (the most- listened-to classical music radio show in America, hosted by Fred Child), MPR “The Joy of Pipa” hosted by Karl Gehrke and The CBS Radio KMOX 1120 Charlie Brennan Show in St Louis. She has presented hundreds of educational workshops for elementary through college-age students, and has been on the faculty of Metropolitan State University and MacPhail Center for the Arts.
China’s foremost music publication, “People’s Music,” wrote of Gao Hong that “like the famous Luoyang peony, she has gradually emerged as the best of all beautiful flowers…her performance has extremely strong artistic appeal and belongs under the category of ‘fine wine’…the more you listen, the more beautiful it gets…”