Peter Kfoury has played his blend of jazz-funk-pop fusion around Charleston for years, in just about every kind of venue. But it wasn’t until he expanded his touring area to Asheville a few years ago that he hit on the idea for what’s now called the World Music Café, a concert series that features musical styles from all over the world.
“Asheville has four or five rooms that could be called ‘listening rooms,'” Kfoury says. “I define those as rooms where people go strictly to listen to music, as opposed to a bar that happens to have music. They can seat as few as 30 or as many as 130 people.”
Kfoury and his fiancé Pam Rhea noticed that there weren’t many, if any, places like that in Charleston, so they hit upon a plan to kill two musical birds with one stone. “We decided to start a series called the World Music Café to give more of a voice to world music,” he says, “because Charleston has a great music scene in many ways but very little in the way of ethnic music. But we also wanted to create a listening room where people could go specifically to listen to music.”
So they had the idea —now they needed a venue. that’s where John Holenko and Hazel Ketchum’s Hungry Monk Music, a collective of performers as well as a space for music lessons, comes in. The facility has sporadically doubled as a venue since opening in 1993.
“You can’t go to an existing venue that’s already a bar,” Kfoury says. “But when we talked to John and Hazel, they said, ‘That’s fantastic — we’ve actually thought of doing this ourselves over the years. We just haven’t had the time.'”
The series launched in early 2016 and takes place on the first Friday of every month, featuring three to four different acts playing 25-35 minute sets. So far, the series has featured jazz, gospel, Middle Eastern fusion, Native American music, roots blues, Brazilian jazz, Israeli music, and much more. The series also occasionally visits North Charleston’s South of Broadway Theatre. “We bounce back and forth between the two venues based on availability,” Kfoury says. “But that move tells us that the need and the market are there. This is something people enjoy. We’re just providing the option.”
And the audience isn’t the only group that’s enjoying the attentive atmosphere. “The musicians love it,” Rhea says. “For them to come and have the place be so quiet you can hear a pin drop, and to have people listen to every note and every word, every musician wants to come back and do it again. They love doing it.”
The plan to have several artists for each edition of the series was in place from the beginning, because Kfoury wanted to try to create some variety for the $10 cover. “We didn’t want to present one person,” he says. “If we said we’ve got a Spanish guitarist, somebody looking at that might say, ‘That’s cool, but I don’t like Spanish guitar. But if we have a Spanish guitarist, someone playing sitar, or Middle Eastern jazz fusion, they’re going to find something in there they really like and they’ll hear the other stuff, too.
It’s proven to be an effective formula — so much so that the city reached out to Kfoury and Rhea about putting on a Piccolo Spoleto performance on June 8 at the City Gallery. He says, “We’ll have Heather Rice and Duda Lucena playing Brazilian music, Kurt Lamkin, who plays the African kora, then myself and my percussionist Peter Cortese playing Middle Eastern jazz fusion.”