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Center Stage connects Americans with performing artists and ideas rarely heard in the U.S. At the same time, the program encourages artists from abroad to share their direct experiences of American life with their followers back home. The Center Stage Season 3 ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania touring in 2016 ...

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Ron Kadish

Center Stage Season 3: Cultural Exchange Program Returns with African Focus, Promotes Global Ties, Introduces New Work

From cross-cultural enclaves south of the world’s largest desert to rapidly changing cities at the edge of Europe, Africa’s performing artists are communicating about issues, challenges and opportunities familiar to all global citizens, using images, sounds, and words of originality and cultural fluency.

For its third edition, Center Stage (, the ambitious cultural exchange program initiated by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts, will bring five contemporary music and theater ensembles from two of the continent’s 54 countries -- Algeria and Tanzania -- to tour in the USA between July and December 2016.

As the crow flies, 3,200 miles separate the two countries. Algeria, Africa’s largest nation by area, embraces both the verdant Mediterranean coast and the world’s largest desert, its Maghreb culture a mix of European, Berber, and Saharan ideas and practices. Modern Tanzania whose East African mainland is among the most biodiverse, includes the Zanzibar islands, one of the world’s most storied economic hubs. The two nations share a history of Arabic and Muslim elements interacting with multiple indigenous practices. Politically, both countries struggled to achieve national independence in the 1960s.

With confidence and creativity, contemporary artists of both nations are addressing local and global questions: mobility and immigration, economic equity and educational access, cultural and environmental integrity, governmental and historical accountability, and personal and religious liberty.

The Artists of Center Stage Season 3

Democratoz (Oran, Algeria/U.S. debut)  Hard-grooving reggae, rai & rock from cosmopolitan Oran

Ifrikya Spirit (Algiers, Algeria/U.S. debut)  Tranced-out diwan sounds from Algiers, gathered under a big musical tent

Istijmam (Oran, Algeria/U.S. debut)  Gritty, intimate theater confronts the destiny of today’s Algeria

Msafiri Zawose (Bagamoyo, Tanzania)  Gogo power channeled by Tanzania’s charismatic musical scion

Rajab Suleiman & Kithara (Zanzibar, Tanzania/U.S. debut)  Renewed taarab reinvigorates Zanzibar’s syncretic signature sound

Sanam Marvi (Hyderabad, Pakistan) A vocal warrior; Marvi is the next, great diviner of South Asia's humanist, folk and Sufi texts.

Sounds of Kolachi (Karachi, Pakistan/U.S. debut) This 10-piece super group sweeps audiences onto a sonic highway that stretches from South Asian ragas to the Blues.

Arts presenters and communities interested in hosting an ensemble are encouraged to contact Lisa Booth Management, Inc. at 212.921.2114 or Tours are being routed this summer and fall; all engagements take place between July and December 2016.

About Center Stage

“Center Stage artists are amazing ambassadors who create wide open spaces for communities to connect.” - Helena Presents/Helena, MT

Center Stage connects Americans with performing artists and ideas rarely heard in the U.S. At the same time, the program encourages artists from abroad to share their direct experiences of American life with their followers back home. The Center Stage Season 3 ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania touring in 2016 will join artists from Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, and Vietnam as participants in the program.

Launched in 2012, Center Stage tours take place every two years. Artists touring as part of the program build mutual understanding via cultural expression and people-to-people connections. The ensembles perform and engage with audiences onstage, offstage, and online providing positive and popular avenues of mutual understanding through shared culture and values.

Independent month-long tours take artists to major markets and smaller American communities. Since the program’s inception, more than 85,000 people in 32 states and the District of Columbia have attended performances and participated in workshops, discussions, artist jams and community gatherings. Another 350,000 people worldwide have watched live streamed and on demand concerts, panel discussions, interviews and engaged via social media.

While their individual voices, approaches, and relationships to heritage differ widely, Center Stage participants point to the swiftly changing, aesthetically complex scenes they work and live in. The breadth and quality of expression support the program’s core hope: To spark new connections in the U.S. and in the artists’ home countries, and to create and expand platforms and spaces for these artists to share their work and ideas with a broader international audience.

“It’s not about where I come from or where you come from. It’s about what we share.  It’s about what we share in a fundamentally human way.” - noori/Lahore, Pakistan

Of the more than 100 performers in 17 ensembles who have toured to date, ten groups were US debuts. The program has commissioned new work by contemporary performers, such as Moroccan dancer and choreographer Hind Binali’s exploration of culture, gender, and movement, Identity (2014). Pakistan’s Khumariyaan and Poor Rich Boy returned to America to participate in SXSW in March 2015. Since its international debut with Center Stage in 2012, Indonesia’s Papermoon Puppet Theater has toured its compelling production ‘Mwathirika’ to major festivals in Australia, Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with additional support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.  General management for Center Stage is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Keep up with Center Stage on Facebook and on Twitter and at

The groove is the force encouraging fans to pack the floor, the trigger for Democratoz’s own creativity. When Sadek began to write original songs, they always seemed to have reggae feel to them. He had sung over tracks and beats created by Halim (Democratoz’ drummer) and recorded and produced by LilG, but never had his own group. The two friends ran into guitarist Popay via mutual acquaintances in their neighborhood. The three began to jam together, playing Bob Marley covers. Eventually, they met the rest of the band’s members at an evening dedicated to reggae. They clicked, began to create their own songs, and were soon packing festivals.

The band has a restless, joyful energy, a flair for catchy melodies that pick up where bands like Alpha Blondy, in their critical Afrocentric funkiness, and more lyrical masters of the reggae ballad like Rocky Dawuni, leave off. Yet they have their own rhythmic sense that knocks Oran feel into the international music.

Within a song, the rhythm at reggae’s core often eases into an Algerian pulse, only to leap back again into bouncing bass and bursts of funky keys. “Sometimes the rhythm is very Algerian,” says guitarist Popay. “We do a break and play in reggae rhythm, and then do a break and go back into the Algerian rhythm.”

The colloquial Arabic lyrics hook into reggae’s other revolutionary side. Its messages of resistance, pride, and dissent that have made music resonate across North Africa and the Middle East.

Democratoz are outspoken, if creative, in taking on some of the ongoing struggles their generation face. “What influences us most is current politics and society. Our name even talks about it. Popay remarks, “Most of our songs speak about these issues, using irony and metaphors.”

Touring Contact & Information

Lisa Booth & Deirdre Valente
Lisa Booth Management, Inc.
Tel +1 (212) 921-2114

General Program Information

Adrienne Petrillo
Program Manager, New England Foundation for the Arts
Tel: +1 (617) 951-0010