It's not every day that an American artist is invited to perform at a major festival in China. So when global soul musician Tomas Doncker was selected by the Chinese Ministry of Cultural Affairs to represent the U.S. at the first International New Folk Music Festival and Shanghai Performing Arts Festival, no one was more surprised than Tomas.
It all began in January 2010 at the MIDEM conference held annually in Cannes, France. Tomas had released the "Small World" EP in March of 2009 which was brought to the attention of the Chinese delegation attending the conference. Eight months later, Tomas would be performing during the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai. "It was a whole Shanghai/China party for a week," Tomas recalls, "and we did 7 shows in 6 days, performing for over 100,000 people. It was pretty spectacular!" In addition to the two festivals, Tomas was also invited to perform at America Square, the USA's Pavilion at the Expo. So how did it all come together?
The invitation to perform in Shanghai was just the beginning of a long sequence of events that would actually make the tour a reality. "It's one thing to be invited; it's another thing to be able to actually go. With budgets the way they are, sponsorship is crucial to independent artists. I saw Eric Clapton perform at Madison Square Garden this year, and as big of a celebrity as he is, he actually had sponsorship from T-Mobile."
While the Shanghai Performing Arts Festival provided accommodations, meals and ground support, there were other considerations, foremost amongst them being airfare. But again, luck was on his side. "I was invited to perform at St Barth's BAZ BAR club in April 2010 while the Shanghai deal was still on the table. BAZ BAR owner Jean-Marc Lefranc and I were talking about both the opportunity and dilemma. He agreed to provide the airfare for the entire band. Then, I really became excited. That meant we were actually going."
"Once that was secured, one of my managers, Mark Cope called me and said "I don't really know anything about China except that it's an very emerging market for Western culture entertainment, but there's a guy whose name is Eric de Fontenay and he's amazing - the things that he's doing, not just in China but in general with his company MusicDish - I'd like to put you in contact with him." So, when I came back from the Caribbean, we performed at the Blue Note in New York and had two sold out shows there. I invited Eric by phone to come see my performance and he did, and his response was very positive."
After a trip to Beijing and Hong Kong for the Music Matter conference, Eric offered MusicDish*China's official media sponsorship for the tour. "So now, we had travel sponsorship, financial sponsorship and media sponsorship. It's one thing to be invited and another to know that you're going, but it's a whole other thing for people to know that you're coming. Eric was relentless - he's like a pit bull; he goes for every possible opportunity and connection when it comes to networking."
Once word began to spread about the trip, Eric suggested that they coordinate a release in China, and introduced Tomas to Robert Singerman with Berlin-based 88tc88 that is official sanctioned to distribute and promote music foreign music in China. Singerman was not just a key player because of the album release - he also introduced Tomas to Philip Jarrell, a guitar builder based out of Shanghai who connected with Tomas' music. Tomas was equally impressed with Jarrell's guitars, stating that "His instruments are the best I've ever played - absolutely phenomenal." That introduction led to him becoming an official Jarrell guitar endorser.
Jarrell, in addition to being a guitar builder is also a high fashion photographer with many connections and served as a major liaison to Tomas and his band once they were in Shanghai. "He documented the entire tour on film. There's actually enough footage for a documentary, which we will sit down and discuss after looking at it all. Right now there is one great clip of us performing Lucky Day at the Shanghai Expo in front of about 15,000 people. The people at the Shanghai Performing Arts Festival were kind of amazed at how much we had gotten done on our own. If you're going to be successful these days, you have to make your own connections, establish relationships and then build on them. We're going back to St. Barth's in December for another performance, for example."
Tomas has signed a distribution deal with Brody/Sony/Red and is launching his new label True Groove Records in early 2011 with the release of "Small World Pt.1 - Deluxe Edition." The "Small World" tour has taken Tomas and his band to D.C., New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Colorado - cities they went to before Shanghai was every mentioned. They toured the Caribbean in April and May, performed in Shanghai/China in September, and are headed back to the Caribbean to in December. "It's been a very busy year. I made up my mind that I would release this album and tour behind its release. I had no idea how I was going to tour, but I just prayed a lot, put my best foot forward, and it turned into a world tour and is still going on. Maybe we'll be like Pink Floyd and be on tour for three years. The rest is still in motion."
Tomas' next project is a multi-media performance piece about the people of Ethiopia and their struggles at the time of World War II. That album is in the final stages and is entitled Power of the Trinity. "We're in the process of acquiring backing for the project and hope to launch it next summer."