For the fourth year in a row, The Museum of Modern Art and Olivier Conan, owner of the popular Brooklyn music venue Barbès, have put together a series of early evening concerts called MoMA Nights, which will be performed in the museum's sculpture garden every Thursday in July and August. In past years, the performances have been connected to the museum's exhibits, but this year, Conan selected artists who work within a specific genre — be it Congolese rumba or Colombian cumbia — in unconventional and idiosyncratic ways.
In addition to owning Barbès, Conan plays in the psychedelic cumbia band Chicha Libre. His eclectic tastes, which run the gamut from vintage international pop sounds to avant-garde anything, have turned Barbès into one of Brooklyn's top destinations for live music. His programming frequently straddles the line between high-culture and good plain fun — worldly while avoiding the pitfalls of "world music." Since MoMA started its series, Conan has brought those same predilections to curating MoMA Nights.
The concerts run from 5 to 8 P.M. on Thursdays, and are free with regular museum admission. Here's what Conan had to say his favorite MoMA Nights this summer:
On Frente Cumbiero, which performs on July 14: "I'm particularly excited by Frente Cumbiero. This is the first time they are playing in town. Of all the nueva cumbia bands from Colombia, they are closer to the original sounds. They've just found a different way to update and modernize the genre, one that doesn't cater to dance floor or youth culture exclusively. It's just really intelligent music and really fun at the same time, and they're really good live."
On Smokey's Secret Family, which performs on August 18: "Smokey Hormel plays guitar in a few bands, including a Western Swing band he's been doing for a few years. But he's got this new band I love that's a take on Congolese Rumba, but with a late '50s, early '60s vibe. He's taken music from that period and combines it with a bit of Brazilian percussion. It's a beautiful project, very lyrical."
On Dharma Swara, which plays on August 25: "This is the one group I can't program at Barbès, because they're too big. This Gamelan orchestra is so huge and will almost take over the whole space at MoMA, and that's kind of the idea. They are an American band based out of the Indonesian consulate, but they've actually traveled to Bali to play big festivals and everything. It's loud and over-sized and a bit scary sometimes if you're not familiar with the music. I think it will be the most interesting evening this summer, because you can't just listen to that music as background, it's impossible."
For the full MoMA Nights summer schedule, click here.