Since I’m writing for a bunch of Iowans, I don’t need to go through all that “you would never expect Ames to be such a diverse city” mumbo-jumbo. This should be well-established by now: Ames is, in terms of the origins of its inhabitants, a microcosm of the world. I live in a Turkish-speaking household down the street from Indian, Chinese, Korean, and eastern European families. When I lived in a different part of Ames for seven years, some of my neighbors were Sudanese-American and one couple was British-Zimbabwean (go figure).
Here’s another well-established fact: Ames’ music scene is a microcosm of the national scene. We have hip-hop, hard rock, soft rock, classic rock cover bands, electronica, soul, pop, giant horn sections. Clearly, we are not lacking any sort of genre diversity here.
The best part of living in Ames is being in a community that is so supportive of different cultures. Some examples: Veishea’s international food fair is packed each year; central Iowans can take advantage of a wide array of houses of worship, including a mosque and synagogue in Ames and a Hindu temple in Madrid; Iowa State student organizations facilitate numerous international celebrations and educational events throughout the school year (I used to go to almost every Turkish Night organized by ISU’s Turkish Student Association).
One thing I still have not been able to comprehend is why Ames’ vibrant arts scene has not merged with the city’s incredibly diverse population. Why don’t I hear more “international” influences in Ames-produced music? The Midwest, though incredibly diverse, has yet to weave the threads of its inhabitants’ heritages into its blossoming musical tapestry.
At one particularly memorable Turkish Night celebration my family and I attended a few years ago, a Turkish cover band from Iowa City, Turkana, was the headliner. The frontman, a medical doctor from Turkey, sang and played saz (a traditional Turkish string instrument) while his backup instrumentalists played guitar, bass, and percussion. The other members of the band, who were native Iowans, admitted they had no idea what most of the songs were about, but they still loved playing music and sharing a different culture with the audience.
Now, as I record my random thoughts related to this topic, I realize that many people would go to venues like the M-Shop, DG’s, the Pantorium, or the Space for Ames to experience the live music of another culture. In fact, the June 4 Sierra Leone Refugee All-Stars performance at DG’s has become one of the most talked-about shows in Ames in the past few weeks — people always love getting exposed to new things, especially if this exposure involves a concert.
If you’re familiar with the melodies of another land, follow Turkana’s example and share your heritage with the rest of the community, especially if you can play traditional instruments and can convince some of your friends to join in your music-making efforts. I promise, people will be thrilled to listen.
Let’s make the Ames music scene as worldly as Ames itself.