Samia Mahbub Ahmad's gentle vocals that floated over classical Indian instrumentals, seemed more suited for a balmy tropical climate than the chilly rain falling outside of the Atlas Performing Arts Center last weekend. But as she played one of the first full-length concerts of the center's fourth INTERSECTIONS Festival, a full house of music lovers basked in the warm drone of her tanpura, the stringed Indian instrument that accompanied two musicians playing ancient rhythms on the tabla drums and sarod.
This is the second year that the native of Bangladesh has participated in "INTERSECTIONS," which, according to publicist Renee Littleton, strives to be as multicultural as the community that surrounds the Atlas Performing Arts Center in the DMV metropolitan area.
"It was announced in a newsletter that they were seeking proposals," Ahmad said, "so I wrote to Mary Hall (Surface) saying that I play Hindustani Classical music, and I don't know whether it could be part of the INTERSECTIONS theme. She said 'yes, go ahead and send in your proposal.' That's how we got started," she said enthusiastically, still wearing her brilliant orange Bangladeshi sari and gold bangles from her performance.
In Lab 2, Nigerian-born Tosin performed "Igi Nsoro: Talking Trees" an interactive drum circle, story-telling and concert for families, celebrating the tree as the source of a variety of musical instruments. This is the third time that Tosin Aribisala, who is known professionally by his first name, has participated in "INTERSECTIONS," since the first festival in 2010.
While enrolled in an arts program at the Music Center at Strathmore, Tosin's mentor, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Jon Carroll asked if the young drummer would be interested in collaborating on a concert. They headlined the first INTERSECTIONS Festival, and the following year, he came back to perform for the free café concerts, held in the lobby in between performances.
"After that, I became very familiar with [the] INTERSECTIONS Festival." Tosin intoned in a melodic Nigerian accent. "I didn't participate last year, because I wasn't sure where I was directing my musical path at the time. But I got an email last year about [the] 2013 INTERSECTIONS Festival, and I said 'why not give it a try?' I sent in two proposals; one for the workshop, and one for my band Afrikan Rhapsody."
"I've done my workshop before elsewhere, at Strathmore Music Center and Goucher College summer program, but this is the first time doing it at INTERSECTIONS," he said. "It was part of the proposal I sent, and they were highly interested. We have followings at these events, people who visit my website and know about my performances, but we also open up to new audiences," the multi-talented vocalist, who also plays guitar and piano, said. "The people who came to the workshop were all new to me. INTERSECTIONS exposes us to them."
Tosin and Afrikan Rhapsody, who perform on March 9th, will help close out a marathon of performances at the Atlas, which by March 10th will have seen more than 600 artists and over 100 performances within the span of three weekends, with a weekday or two added during its run.
With music, dance, spoken word and theater, the all-arts INTERSECTIONS 2013, has expanded not only the number of days it runs, but also the variety of artists involved. For the first time, Faction of Fools Theater Company joined the festival celebrating worldwide Commedia dell'Arte Day 2013 last Monday.
The festival has continued to grow and expand since 2010. INTERSECTIONS Festival Director Mary Hall Surface programmed 20 free café concerts and 25 special events, film and visual arts into this year's offerings.
One such special event is the Washington premier of "Holding it Down: The Veteran's Dreams Project," by international jazz composer/pianist Vijay Iyer, spoken word artist Mike Ladd and veteran poet Maurice Decaul. The documentary project will explore experiences of veterans of color in the Iraq and Afghan wars through the lens of their dreams. "Holding it Down," will play on Friday, March 8th and again on Saturday, March 9th.
"It was a wonderful experience in many ways," Ahmad said. "First, as an artist you seek to find a community where you can express yourself freely. I found the INTERSECTIONS community very accepting. They celebrate all kinds of culture and all kinds of expression."
"The logistical support is amazing," she added. "The process starts the year before, and within two weeks you know if your proposal was accepted. From then on, it's like being part of a family. As an artist, you are taken care of."
INTERSECTIONS 2013 will dance, sing, act and poeticize through March 10th at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE. Support for INTERSECTIONS comes from The FIRE FUND of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Area, The Washington Post, The Washington Informer Newspaper, The Washington City Paper, and ABC/WJLA-TV and News Channel 8. For tickets and festival schedule, visit www.intersectionsdc.org or call (202) 399-7993 ext. 2.