Over the years, the San Francisco International Arts Festival has more than lived up to its name, presenting a far-flung array of performers from around the world. From avant-garde Czech theater and Costa Rican modern dance to Pakistani qawwali vocalists and Argentinian tango, the organization has carved out a rarified niche by presenting artists who wouldn’t otherwise get the opportunity to perform here.
But the cosmopolitan nature of the region means that the SFIAF also programs many Bay Area artists steeped in traditions from abroad, and no neighborhood is more visible at this year’s festival than the Mission. Returning to Fort Mason on Oct. 23 and 24 (with online offerings starting Oct. 20), the SFIAF’s condensed fall program encompasses theater, dance, performance art and music, and Mission-connected artists are represented in just about every discipline.
“We know we have global cultural riches right here in the city, especially in the Mission,” said Andrew Wood, the SFIAF’s founder and executive director.
“There’s a global gathering here all the time, and it’s immigrants who are providing that energy.”
When it comes to music, the neighborhood outsized role as an incubator and showcase for global talent is particularly evident at the SFIAF. Looking at some of the Mission musicians featured this year what’s striking is both the resilience of the artists and the fragile nature of the scene.
Emerging from the rock en Español movement of the 1990s, Los Nadies is a pan-Latin American ensemble that’s honed a mestizo sound combining rock and cumbia, rumba flamenco and soukous, nueva trova and reggae. The group performs Saturday at 5 p.m. in the Eucalyptus Grove, a setting well-suited for a band that can energize a dance floor or rivet a seated audience in a nightclub.
“We’ve always embraced our name, trying to be in touch with the barrio,” said Peruvian-born vocalist and rhythm guitarist Juan Cuba, referring to the oft-cited Eduardo Galeano poem that translates as “The Nobodies.”
“There’s a synergy between us and the audience, and we’ve found ways to connect over the years.”
Cuba founded Los Nadies about two decades ago with Bolivian guitarist Mateo Nube and Argentinian percussionist José Vergelin, and for many years the group was a mainstay at Sylvie Le Mer’s beloved creperie Ti Couz (which closed in 2011), across the street from The Roxie. Her death last year in her native France left many performers recalling her as “a champion who would feed us and pay us,” Cuba said.
“She loved to have block parties, and was always pushing to make space for musicians to play. We were there regularly on weekends, along with bands like Pangea Futbol Club. It became like a network.”
True it its name, the Mission Hot Club was also conceived in the neighborhood. The Gypsy-jazz combo, which performs noon Sunday on the Parade Ground with special guest vocalist Mimi Pirard, evolved out of guitarist Scott Feichter’s Djangology classes at the Community Music Center. By 2018, the teacher had skimmed some of the most talented players from the advanced course and the combo started working informally around the neighborhood.
“At the beginning, were busking in the Mission,” said French-born violinist Hélène Bahu on a recent Zoom session with several bandmates.
“We’d start at the Community Music Center and warm up with a few songs and then walk around the Mission,” said Belarus-born clarinetist Sasha Yakubovich. “We might stop in front of Dog Eared Books and end up at Dolores Park.”
As the group got more serious, they landed a monthly spot at Club DeLuxe on Haight Street, and became regulars at now-shuttered Revolution Café (an incalculable loss for the Bay Area arts ecosystem). “It was a lovely neighborhood incubator,” Bahu said, “a fun exciting place to try new things.”
The combo’s moniker is both an expression of neighborhood pride and a nod to longstanding tradition. Like its repertoire and instrumentation, the name harkens back to Romani guitarist Django Reinhardt and French violinist Stéphane Grappelli’s Quintet of the Hot Club of France, which invented the Gypsy jazz style in Paris in the mid-1930s.
“Because that was where we met and started playing, we thought it was an important part of the band’s identity,” Bahu said.
“And at that time, everybody in the group was living in the Mission, too,” added accordionist Robert Kennedy.
While inspired by the original Hot Club, the band is less interested in recreating that ebullient sound than in finding ways to accommodate and synthesize their disparate musical interests. These days, that means gleaning tunes and cadences from Spanish, Irish, Balkan, New Orleans, and Klezmer acoustic idioms.
“We like to play a lot of different kinds of music,” Bahu said. “Anything we like we don’t have any limits. That’s a big part of our identity.”
There’s no mistaking the origins of ABADÁ-Capoeira San Francisco, which presents “Spirt of Brazil” at noon on Saturday on the Parade Grounds as part of its 30th anniversary celebration. A longtime outpost of capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian fusion of music, dance and martial arts set to the elastic twang of the single-string berimbau and other percussion, ABADÁ was founded in the early 1990s by Rio-born Márcia “Cigarra” Treidler, one of the first female capoeira mestres.
SFIAF’s Andrew Wood played a central role in the school’s evolution as a performing organization that often brings masters from Brazil for teaching and Carnival. For many years, ABADÁ was locked out of funding from the city’s Grants For the Arts because it was seen as a school rather than a dance company.
In 2006, before ABADÁ took over the 22nd Street studio formerly occupied by Joe Goode Dance Group, Wood suggest putting together a dance showcase at Theater Artaud. He invited Kary Schulman, who directed the Grants For the Arts program for nearly four decades, to one of the performances.
“They drew more than 1,000 people over three days, and the whole building was shaking,” Wood recalled. “Within three months, ABADÁ was on the Grants for the Arts roster.”