A few months ago, the SXSW Music Festival and Conference took over Austin, Texas, and 11 Texan performers joined over 150 internationally-inspired acts that converged from more than 30 countries to showcase their music. Plus, the city enjoyed live performances from several Texan musicians and performers of international music.
But, world music lovers in Texas don’t have to wait for next year’s music festival to enjoy live performances from these Texan musicians and their ensembles. Take a journey into numerous cultures through music in your backyard through the sounds of the world near you. Here are the bands to check out from across Texas and several international music genres.
1. 1001 Nights Orchestra, Austin, Texas, describes itself as a “buffet of colorful music showcasing Middle Eastern cultures’ diversity and unity,” and beyond; known for music including Arabic, Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Russian, and more.
1001 Nights Orchestra, Austin, Texas
2. Atash, Austin, Texas, creates a powerful, worldly and original sound through it’s use of musicians from around the world, as part of spreading it’s message of love and peace.
3. Eddy Kenzo, Dallas, Texas, a Ugandan native, music was a safe haven for Eddy, whose life story was short of magical, and bred a talent that led him to an international audience of thousands.
5. Hard Proof, Austin, Texas, an Afrobeat ensemble that’s become known for its great sense of rhythm and melody, this group is internationally-inspired from Nigeria to Ethiopia in its adventurous jazz.
6. Intocable, Zapata, Texas, creates music because of its belief in it’s power to transcend boundaries- of genres, of borders, of languages, and that’s what we love to hear. You can catch the Mexican-inspired band play Norteño Tejano style of music.
7. Joel Laviolette & Rattletree, Austin, Texas, takes electronic music onto the live stage, featuring giant wooden marimbas (xylophones), customes, lights, video, and more in his trance inducing music of Zimbabwe.
Joel Laviolette & Rattletree
8. Khali Haat, Austin, Texas, is a seven-piece collective that recently self-released its debut album of afro-beat, afro-pop and psychedelic-funk.
9. Los Skarnales, Houston, Texas, performs a true-to-the-root mix of ska, cumbia, and rockabilly, with a punk attitude, throughout the U.S. and Mexico.
10. Henry Brun & The Latin Players, San Antonio, Texas, a native of Puerto Rico, Henry is a Grammy award-winning Latin Jazz artist, and master at congas, bongos, timbales, and percussion instruments of Africa, Brazil and the Middle East.
Henry Brun & The Latin Playerz
11.The Chamanas, El Paso, Texas, is a 5 member Latin Indie pop fusion ensemble possesses a unique combination of styles and genres from traditional Mexican folkore to pop, Brazilian Bossa Nova, Indie, Danzon, and more.
Harper Macaw is a new artisanal chocolate factory in DC. Their grand opening was this past December, and my husband and I just happened to show up in time for their first ever tour of the space. But first, free hot chocolate. Made from pure chocolate, not powder, this little shot of hot chocolate was decadent and heavenly. From the first sip, I knew we wouldn’t regret the drive out to the factory. I have to say, for a store’s opening day, they had everything worked out incredibly well.
A tour costs $5 and includes a chocolate tasting at the end. We paid in advance and were told to help ourselves to more free chocolate samples on the beautiful wall of chocolate.
I passed on this, but Tom obliged, reporting back that they were all very good. I started to get even more excited to learn more about this new venture.
One of the things that caught my eye when reading about Harper Macaw was that they source all of their cocoa beans from Brazil and that every product they sell protects and restores deforested or vulnerable rainforest in Northeast Brazil. As a DC resident who recently spent five months living in Brazil, I was instantly drawn to Harper Macaw’s mission and our visit only made me respect their initiative more.
Run by a husband and wife team, Sarah and Colin Hartman, Harper Macaw is hoping to change the artisanal chocolate scene for the better. Sarah, a chocolate maker from Sao Paulo, seems to be well poised for success.
Colin, a U.S. Marine Veteran, explained during our tour that compared to the coffee and craft beer industries, little is really known about chocolate making on a craft level. The big companies keep the majority of their recipes and information to themselves, so startups have to be innovative to make it work.
Our tour started in the storage room, where giant bags of cocoa beans wait to become delicious bars of chocolate. Harper Macaw works closely with its cocoa bean farmers to ensure they practice sustainable farming, which helps to maintain tree cover and increases biodiversity in the rainforests. These practices help both the wildlife in the surrounding regions as well as to raise the level of income potential for the farmers.
Here, the beans are cleaned, classified and roasted before going through a machine called a winnower, which cracks the beans and separates the chocolate nibs, which are then used to create the final product.
Next, the chocolate is put into a conche machine which creates a chocolate liquor prior to the refinement process. We were offered a taste of the liquor, which looked a lot like cake batter but didn’t quite taste like it. It was gritty and slightly bitter, but you could definitely start to taste the familiar flavor of chocolate.
After that, the chocolate is tempered to bind the crystals from the cocoa butter and the sugar so that the chocolate dries in the right chemical structure. The chocolate is then poured into molds and once dry, wrapped in recyclable paper instead of foil. Besides being environmentally friendly, this keeps the chocolate from absorbing any outside flavors.
I’ve definitely dumbed the process down here. While I’m pretty much an expert chocolate eater, I’m far from knowledgeable in chocolate making. I highly recommend visiting the factory and taking a tour for more in-depth information. The tour concludes with a tasting of all four of Harper Macaw’s chocolate varieties.
Sarah joined us to teach us how to properly taste chocolate and give us more information about her products. We were pretty excited about this part. When tasting chocolate, you should first rub the chocolate between your fingers to get it to melt slightly which will release the flavors and aromas of the cocoa beans. Don’t mind my super cute food-safe hair net, or the guilty look on my face, I was just massaging my chocolate as instructed.
Once you place the chocolate in your mouth, take a few bites but then allow it to melt completely in your mouth instead of continuing to chew it. This will allow you to experience all of the flavors of the chocolate, of which there are many more than I realized.
I’m usually not a huge fan of dark chocolate, but I may now be converted. We started with Harper Macaw’s 52% milk chocolate, which is decadent like a good milk chocolate should be while still offering a lot of complexity. The varieties got darker as we progressed from 67% to 74% to 77%. Each version had different flavor profiles, with a lot of different nutty and fruity flavors I wouldn’t usually associate with chocolate. I think my favorite was the 74%, but it’s hard to choose.
Chocolate bars cost $8 each at the factory and $9 online and offsite (the bars are also sold at Glen’s Garden Market). They also sell chocolate nibs, fresh-baked goods and hot chocolate at the factory. If you still need a few stocking stuffers or gifts for your coworkers, I highly recommend checking out Harper Macaw Chocolate Factory and supporting a new local DC business along with forest conservation efforts in Brazil.
Also, a chocolate tour and tasting would make for an excellent first date, or second, or thousandth in our case. Tom was actually really impressed with me for finding such a fun way to do our Christmas shopping. The fact that we got to drink beer next door at DC Brau afterward didn’t hurt either.
For the address and detailed information to plan your visit, click here.
Kacy runs the DC blog, Bad Sentences, and is also a cultural ambassador for MezzeCulture in the Washington DC area, who lives and writes in Washington D.C., and enjoys travel and discovering international food and wine locally.
It’s vacation season in the United States, but even so Americans are often led in our culture to believe that traveling is greatest when it’s a college rite of passage, or better yet, scheduled when we’re not busy at work—or best yet, a luxury to be enjoyed in old age.
Why? Because we’re taught that at any other point in our life, exploring so greatly is simply inefficient. We’ve been led to believe we don’t have enough money, time or courage to be curious about other people, or that travel is a hassle best for when it least disrupts us.
These are self-imposed cultural barriers. Now, here’s hoping the half of Americans with passports don’t mind elbowing their way through another 150 million peers who haven’t traveled abroad, but let me share 6 reasons why it’s important. Whichever half you fall into, when was the last time you took the euphoric plunge into something new?
If you haven’t ever or even recently stepped off a plane—or into your backyard—and into a different culture or country, then these 6 tips are for you.
1. Change routines to put more time on your side.
Our American work culture makes it hard to take long vacations, and it’s easy to feel guilty or even too busy to be far away or out of touch for long periods. So, try changing the way you treat the time you have outside of work. Find unique ways to break away from the typical afternoon or weekend by getting to know the world through authentic cultural experiences locally.
Dream of the Caribbean? Start salsa lessons. Find out what you want to learn more about, and you’ll covet your free time. It’s up to you to live beyond the nine-to-five. Time can’t be saved, but it can be invested.
2. Examine activities that improve the value of a dollar.
If you’re constantly letting costs and logistics prevent you from experiencing new things, then you don’t know one simple truth. Logistics are a part of everything we buy, and by getting hung up on every little decision, you’d never buy anything. Look at the money you do have, and then a closer look at your philosophy for living life. Ask yourself if you’re fulfilled in your current lifestyle investments. Reevaluate what investments are truly worth your resources.
For $20 you can go to Cuba—try a Cuban restaurant nearby, ask the owners about their culture, and try some new flavors. These types of new activities can inspire you to travel with the money you do have.
Check out upcoming exclusive events for exploring cultures in Austin. More »
3. That’s it, take a couple more steps out of your comfort zone.
If unknown flavors and cultures pique your curiosity, but you aren’t courageous enough to be adventurous, take a deep breath in and ask yourself why. Then tell yourself that every person and place you know today was once a step outside of your comfort zone. What you enjoy eating and doing today was something you once tried for the first time. Friends and acquaintances, at one point were strangers to you.
To get to know the world, take a couple steps and start locally. If you saw a show on Mexico, then find the nearest Mexican restaurant. Explore your city for people and things from around the world that you’ve heard about; you just don’t know you’ll love yet. Do that enough, and you’ll realize just how small this world really is, and that your backyard holds a lot of it.
4. Use your passions to overcome your circumstances.
Our circumstances set easy stumbling blocks in the way of travel if we don’t examine them closely. What notions of the future may not be leaving any room for you to explore today? What you chose to do today may be leaving more exciting doors unopened. If you love coffee then stop settling for the chain, and find an authentic Italian café or coffee class nearby tomorrow. If you’re seeking triumph up the corporate ladder, take another minute break and keep reading.
As Americans, we need to stop graduating, working and retiring to travel. Don’t become complacent because of daily—or worse, cultural expectations. Don’t settle for chain coffee. Open a new door, and you’ll add cool memories and quality to your life starting today.
5. Look for people eager to share something with you.
Don’t just try a new international restaurant, salsa class or espresso bar. Step outside and now ask yourself what else you can’t do. As Americans, we are fortunate to live in a beautiful, vast and very diverse country. It could take a lifetime just to see all of the regional and geographic diversity of the United States alone. Make that a goal, but you don’t have to go far to experience our cultural kaleidoscope.
Nearly a quarter, over 80 million of us recently immigrated here. Open the eyes of your soul and you’ll start to see the wealth of experiences, destinations and people eager to share their talents, heritage and firsthand international experiences from abroad right in your own neighborhood.
When you travel to celebrate something, that feeds your senses. When you go somewhere for no reason, that feeds the heart. Cross the boundaries of your own city for something new and fun, and you’ll find that people smile in the same language.
6. You don’t know what you don’t know, so find it.
If you’ve got a global outlook on travel, you’re almost ready to go. Look around you first. People around you might minimize the importance of world travel because, well, they don’t know what they don’t know. To them, other people might seem scary, strange and unapproachable—because of what they have only perceived. By traveling you can help to dispel myths and break down these barriers.
Once you truly see the cultures and traditions, languages and faces around you, they are no longer left to your imagination. Maybe that’s why it’s been said that travel is the ultimate form of diplomacy. Get out there locally and find something new in your own backyard.
True triumph over travel barriers comes when we learn to value the experience—not after we return but before we step on the plane. By relishing in travel’s enriching authenticity beforehand, traveling is simpler. Americans can change our outlook on international travel simply by changing how we interact with the people, places and things that are all around us.