The Pink Martini mission statement is a simple one: bring people together. Part entertainment, part cultural outreach initiative, the band known as the “little orchestra” is a call for unity spoken through the universal language of music. Pink Martini represents the pulse of the world with a danceable beat.
Founder Thomas Lauderdale described to EU Jacksonville how he channeled his early political aspirations in an artistic platform to create an all-inclusive sound from a social, political and global perspective. Pink Martini pushed against the boundaries of pop music and developed a multilingual repertoire reflected by its global fan base.
“Creatively, the band itself is such a preposterous concept. It doesn’t seem plausible, playing this kind of music and kind of going in the opposite direction of pop culture and performing the sort of repertoire that we do. But somehow it’s been around for 22 years. It’s such an opportunity for people who are very different to come together under one rooftop and by the end of it, hopefully form a Conga line.”
Pink Martini performs Jan 17 at the Florida Theatre (355-ARTS; www.floridatheatre.com) touring in support of what Lauderdale refers to as the band’s “happiest album” to-date, Jes Dis Oui, which means “I say yes!” in French.
The live show is a demonstration of lively musical execution in a variety of styles – and languages. Jes Dis Oui features 15 tracks performed in eight different languages: English, French, Farsi, Armenian, Portuguese, Arabic, Turkish and Xhosa. Lauderdale produced the album with Kyle Mustain, English horn player with Pink Martini and the Oregon Symphony. Jes Dis Oui was the last project recorded at Portland’s Kung Fu Bakery.
“The goal was always to create a band whose music would appeal to conservatives and liberals and people of different ages and lands and customs and find a commonality by performing songs from 25 different countries.”
“There are moments during the course of a night where people in the audience can get up and dance, sometimes on stage. There is a prolific hope and exhilaration and happiness,” says Lauderdale. “People like to be involved in the show, not just be stuck in a seat.”
A mixed bag of guest musicians appear on the project including vocalist Rufus Wainwright, NPR’s Ari Shapiro, fashion guru Ikram Goldman and civil rights activist Kathleen Saadat. “This album is just refreshing, and the people we were spending time with, the countries we have visited when we were working on this, it’s almost like a diary or a time capsule of opportunity,” says Lauderdale.
“For me, one of the most significant achievements about this album is the fact that we have Ari Shapiro, who is Jewish, singing in Arabic. And to have the author of the lyrics, who is from Jerusalem, introduce this song which she wrote as an articulation of the sadness of a refugee, say in front of 5,000 people in a hall in London that it is an honor to have a Jewish friend Ari Shapiro sing this. That’s everything.”
In 1994, as a Harvard graduate and a classically trained pianist, Lauderdale combined his passion for quality music with his support of important social causes. Pink Martini filled the void left by the dull background music he endured at fundraising events frequented during his brief bid for the mayor’s seat in Portland, Oregon. It didn’t take long to discover the position as bandleader also had potential as a traveling goodwill ambassador.
“The goal was always to create a band whose music would appeal to conservatives and liberals and people of different ages and lands and customs and find a commonality by performing songs from 25 different countries,” says Lauderdale. “I personally wanted to create a band that I would go see. There are few pop artists that perform songs in multiple languages. That’s part of the dichotomy. It makes all the sense in the world to try to breach things and bring people together.”
The following year, he welcomed his college classmate China Forbes to the ensemble, Since then, Pink Martini has sold over three million albums on the band’s own label, Heinz Records and performed on international stages with symphony orchestras worldwide.
“What we have to really try to instill is this idea that we can actually talk and listen and try to understand each other. The world is not just black and white.”
“We haven’t really changed, but the culture has definitely changed over the last 22 years. I think that we’re a less empathetic culture in general, less likely to listen; it’s a lot of raw emotion in the ways that people are communicating with each other in love or at work or in politics. There’s so little empathy and kindness and grace that hopefully the band is able to bring a little of that back.”
Lauderdale keeps his art separate from his personal political views during performances. Instead, he’s chosen to use his voice to invite togetherness rather than encourage further divisiveness. He hopes audiences will embrace the affirmations in the message, music and mission of Pink Martini and enter the New Year with renewed hope for the future.
“What we have to really try to instill is this idea that we can actually talk and listen and try to understand each other. The world is not just black and white,” he says. “There are multiple layers and wonderful people who are willing to listen. It’s a huge opportunity to really remind people that we have to really pull it together to get better than we are.”