“It’s getting harder to create rhythms that will rid us of hate in the world,” said Tunisian artist Emel Mathlouthi midway through her set at California WorldFest in Grass Valley last weekend. Malthlouthi is best known for a pair of protest songs that became anthems for the Tunisian revolution, also known as the Jasmine Revolution.
On this weekend, she was taking part in the 20th version of the amazing festival that draws fans and performers from all over the globe.
The event had commenced a day earlier as news of the attack in Nice, France had hit the wire. By festival’s end, news of the police officers being gunned down in Baton Rouge would be widely known. More shocking news. More innocent lives. More need for healing.
Thus, it felt important to take part in this temporary global village in the foothills. Those who camped for the four-day festival experienced an environment of positive, healing energy with diverse performances from musicians who came from Mali, Sweden, Senegal, Chile and many other places on the world map.
“We are really trying to represent the globe in terms of who is playing here and emphasize cultural engagement and interaction with the artists,” said festival director Julie Baker. “Even though we come from different continents and have different religions and our skin color might not be the same, there is something that connects us. What an artist can do is connect that thread for us.”
During a performance by Peter Mawanga of Malawi, the singer emphasized this need to connect. “In Malawi, your GPS is the first person you meet. All you have to do is smile,” said Mawanga with a huge grin.
Although music and culture are the focus, there were presentations on conscious living, dance, music and art opportunities. Baker, who took over as festival director two years ago, has overseen many subtle changes that have improved upon the festival’s original model.
A few of the changes were expanding the Native People’s Village to the Global Indigenous People’s Village; installing a lounge area with embroidered Indian parasols hanging above; and bringing a farm stand into the campsite. “Fresh peaches when you are camping for four days is a really special treat,” Baker said.
All of these touches were appreciated by the well-behaved patrons. In fact, attendees often voiced how the the atmosphere was so relaxing, safe and hassle-free.
People were genuinely nice to each other. Hugs were plentiful. Children creatively played and explored. It was not uncommon to see hippies flossing their teeth.
The festival’s first three featured headliners were Vancouver’s Delhi to Dublin, Portland’s Nahko and Medicine for the People and reggae legend Third World. Boz Scaggs capped off everything on the final night with an excellent set of bluesy soul that earned two encores.
As for emerging acts, the soft, lilting duets of Scandanavian duo My Bubba captivated many, while the bead-throwing, zydeco mania of Louisiana’s Terrance Simien caught on as well. R&B-gospel singer Liz Vice played a jazzy version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Dustin Thomas impressed with his beat-box soul.
Sacramento was well-represented by Joy and Madness, whose pair of high-energy sets were received with an enthusiastic response from the Sunday crowd.
Also on board was Sacramento native Lee Bob Watson and his band Lee Bob & the Truth. The rocking quartet, based in San Francisco, also features local natives Josh Lippi on bass and Mike Curry on drums. Watson, who has taught English in Asia, worked in Africa and now resides in the Mission district, brings a socially conscious world view to his brand of rock ‘n’ roll.
“We just gotta band together,” he said. “And spread the love every day.”
Ain’t that the truth.