Women bring world in music

Dover Sherborn Tab, MA
April 8 2004

Women bring world in music

By Chris Orchard/ Correspondent

SHERBORN – Music from around the world filled the
Unitarian-Universalist Church in Sherborn last Saturday.

Libana performed several international folk songs, many of which
dealt with longing for home.

The group brought rhythms, lyrics, instruments, and voices from
across the globe into the church. Their songs came from countries
such as South Africa, Republic of Georgia, Israel, Armenia, Russia,
Hawaii and 14th-century Persia.

“We’ve been exploring music from around the globe” for 25 years, they

Libana performs “contemporary and traditional music of the world’s
women,” said artistic director and founder Susan Robbins.

“We play ancient folk songs,” and “also songs that give voice to a
more visionary sense of how women” are creating better lives for
themselves, she said.

The group, composed of seven women, was formed in 1979, when “world
music was hardly even a term yet,” said Robbins.

That year was a turning point, musically, in the life of Robbins.

“It was the times and my curiosity,” she said. “I wanted to see what
the women of the world had created.”

Other members of Libana are Lisa Bosley, Allison Coleman, Charlotte
Miller, Marytha Paffrath, Linda Ugelow and Cheryl Weber.

In folk cultures, where men and women work separately, there are
differences between men’s music and women’s music, said Robbins.

“Women were the carrier of a lot of oral tradition,” she said.

Gary Strichartz, chairman of the music committee at the
Unitarian-Universalist Church, said “I’m enraptured” by the music.

“Sue and Marytha have come to our Sunday services,” he said. Marytha,
who is Libana’s main percussionist, also leads a drum group at the

Libana’s rhythms and songs brought listeners, momentarily, to another
place and time. Their music has a spiritual dimension, said

“It’s one of the most wonderful things to drive around in, especially
in Boston traffic,” he said.

While the group hails from Harvard Square, its members travel and
perform around the world, learning as they go.

“We do a lot of listening to world music,” said Robbins.

There’s international flavor right here in Boston, too. In order to
get songs right, “we will go about finding someone from the greater
Boston area,” said Robbins.

They specifically mentioned local Armenian communities as great
sources of music and authenticity right here in Eastern

Some of their most profound songs that night came from Islamic
countries, such as Algeria and Egypt, where women still struggle for
a public voice in society. One song, from the Bedouin tradition, they
said, involved heavy drum beats. One rhythm melted into the next
rhythm, with dancing and high-pitched shrieking.

The music they played that night was also being recorded for a live

“I love this church,” said Robbins.

“I don’t think you can have any idea how glad we are to be here
tonight,” said Paffrath.

Though in their minds they were probably somewhere else – in some
far-off country, the crowd seemed glad to be there, too.