Genesee Professor Performs in Belarusian Music Festival

The combination of international travel and performing with a favorite band was music to Pam Swarts ears. Swarts, a Digital Art instructor at Genesee Community College, was invited by the United States Embassy in Belarus to perform in the fifth annual festival of Belarusian music. Known widely as “Ambasovishcha”, the festival took place on June 24, 2009 in Belarus, a land-locked country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania. The festival featured 11 bands from various regions and genres. The band Swarts performed with was The Gifted Children of Rochester, NY, which was the only American band invited to the festival and the first American band to play there in over a decade.

A blend of "ambasada," which means embassy in Belarusian, and "Basowiszcza," an annual Belarusian rock music festival held in Poland, the Ambasovishcha festival has become an annual tradition and the premier event in the Embassy’s cultural calendar. Over the years, several dozen bands and solo performers from all over Belarus have taken part in Ambasovishcha, playing all genres from metal to folk. The festival has included both up-and-coming as well as well-known bands. Each Ambasovishcha festival has a competition among the musical acts, and winners are selected by the popular vote of the audience.

The Gifted Children was invited by the U.S. Embassy because their music had been used in a movie that played at a film festival in Belarus. Swarts, who plays with several bands including The Gifted Children, was asked to fill in for a member who could not attend due to work obligations. She has been playing with the band for the past five years and is featured in many of their recordings. For the festival, she filled in on guitar and sang backup vocals on most of the songs. For two songs she played the flute, and even sang lead vocals on one song.

The band traveled for seven days; five of which were spent in Minsk, Belarus and two in Prague, Czech Republic. Pam noted that Belarus is not a popular tourist destination and very few people spoke English. However, visiting the city of Minsk (Belarus’ capital city), she discovered the city was very clean and well organized due to the fact the city was completely rebuilt and preplanned after much of it was destroyed in World War II.

“Before traveling to Belarus, I had never been outside of the United States, except for Canada,” Swarts said. “It was such a unique opportunity to see and hear music from around the world. And, because we weren’t near any tourist’s attractions, we were able to appreciate the native culture and the interesting people of Belarus.”

Pam has been a staple in the independent music scene in both Buffalo and Rochester for a number of years. She started her first band while attending SUNY Fredonia, called the Happy Purples, and has since performed individually and collaboratively. She has been labeled a ‘noise musician’ which is a broad term describing undefined musical structure or rules; as well as beats, rhythms and ambient sounds that are often combined with electronic melodies. She specializes in distinctive, electronic beats featuring unique musical instruments - everything from a guitar to clarinet to children’s toys. To sample her music, visit www.mysapce.com/pamelaswarts.

Photographs and information of the Ambasovishcha music festival are available at the U.S. Embassy’s website, http://minsk.usembassy.gov/ambasovishcha20010.html.  A video of the festival, featuring The Gifted Children, is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TDleSroEM0.
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