It was a music theater he knew from his childhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, during apartheid, that gave Northport musician Toby Tobias the idea: Why not bring authentic music from all over the world to one spot on Long Island? And why not let the audience break bread together?
When he came to America in 1988, at age 28, Tobias saw that Long Island had a dearth of places to hear world music.
"We all live harmoniously together, but we know nothing about each other's culture or background, of its music or theater," the Northport resident says.
Inspiration came from The Market, a cultural landmark in his hometown that operated outside the apartheid political world of the country at that time, bringing together black and white musicians.
He set out to use that as an example here, by bringing top-rated musicians from other countries and cultures to a Main Street restaurant in Northport.
So far, musicians from Ireland, South Africa and India have come to play in the small space at the front window at Campari Ristorante on select Saturday nights in a series Tobias has organized.
Before each performance, chef-owner Danyell Miller researches the region the performer hails from and comes up with a menu to complement it. One time it was a South African sausage with hot sauce, another night she served an Indian grain and vegetable plate.
"Music is a galvanizing force, and I've found that people are looking for this type of event," Tobias says. "People want to reach out, and want to know how other people live. They just don't know how to do that. So, I am providing that mechanism."
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MUSIC AND STEW
On a recent Saturday night, the music-and-meal combination seemed to work for the patrons, who raved over the authentic feel of the evening.
"I'm transported to a completely different place than Northport," says Kat Shewan, 50, who lives in the village and has been to some of Tobias' other world music events at the restaurant.
Bulgarian folk music is on the menu this night, with the duo of Ivan Milev and Entcho Todorov playing the accordion and violin, respectively.
Todorov tells the crowd that Milev is a folk music hero back in Bulgaria, and that he grew up listening to the accordion player's songs.
"He pretty much created this music in our country," he says.
Milev has fun with the songs, interspersing a few notes of "This Old Man" into a traditional song, and eliciting yelps and hoots from the crowd -- as well as some napkin waving -- as the songs change from slow to upbeat to fast; from somber to festive. The duo also performs Balkan music from other countries, such as Romania.
"This is a special area of the world that we don't have access to," says Guzin Potente, 40, owner of Northport Yoga Center.
For the Balkan show, diners had at least three choices each for appetizer, soup or salad, and entree, including lepinja bread with kyopolou (an eggplant and garlic spread), beet salad and brodet (a Croatian seafood stew).
Miller says she tries to buy local as much as possible, including desserts by neighboring Caffe Portofino, and teas through Northport's own Clipper Ship Tea Co.
"The food and music together make it a more rich and complex experience," she says.
The Sweet Spot at Cucina
WHEN | WHERE Dinner starts at 8 p.m., music around April 11 (West African band Makane Kouyate Trio) and April 25 (Toby Tobias' own South African band) at Campari Ristorante, 225 Main St., Northport. Reservations suggested.
INFO 631-757-6700, sweetspotvenue.com
COST $25, includes choice of tapas and one beverage, $50 three-course dinner and one beverage