Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2014
“Celebration of Culture, Art, Music and Humanity”
by Sista Irie, Austin, Texas
Living in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” one rarely needs to travel outside Austin, Texas to hear the greatest, most captivating music in the universe. Austin is a living gumbo of musical cultures and performance art combined with a historical legacy unparalleled in America. Surrounded by festivals such as the South by Southwest Film and Music Conference, Austin City Limits Festival, Austin Reggae Festival, Pachanga Music Fest, Urban Music Festival, Louisiana Swamp Thing and Crawfish Festival, Carnaval Brasileiro and multitudes of venues featuring world renown performers, one would have to be deeply impassioned or half crazy to travel in search of musical fulfillment.
And yet, every year, during the summer solstice, I am drawn to a world music festival deep in the hills of northern California, tucked away in Mendocino County and situated in the quaint little town of Boonville. The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival beckons music aficionados both spoiled and craving to navigate the winding countryside with the sole purpose of attending a three day celebration of culture, art, music and humanity. The experience is both contagious and addictive.
Celebrating the festival’s 21st Anniversary this past June exemplifies the depth of organizational experience and human synchronicity required to produce and sustain a festival through the many cycles of evolving musical trends and community mores. The festival is built on the devotion of reggae and world music fans embellished by their love for a culturally diverse and ethnically rich experience. Their commitment is nurtured by performances of old time legends, cutting edge rising stars and modern age stalwarts rooted in the consciousness of one love and human dignity. The opening tribute recognizing the Pomo Native Americans promotes a spiritual grounding, respecting and dignifying the values embraced by indigenous peoples, simultaneously reflecting alignment with critical Rastafarian principles. Native Americans and Rastafarians have both experienced extreme ravages of racism, cultural imperialism and oppressive laws that inhibit freedom of thinking and action while perpetuating the political machinery that rewards inequality, capitalists and politicians. It is only appropriate that SNWMF opens with the prayer and dances of the Pomo Native Americans who have full understanding and experience of the very Babylonian doctrines that have disrespected and disadvantaged those whose earthly desire is to live in harmony with the Creator and Mother Nature.
This year, the SNWMF proudly presented and supported a special offering to reggae music industry professionals, a “Reggae Business Discussion” held a few hours before the gates opened to the public. The panel included a commendable list of industry experience, Lloyd Stanbury, Jamaican Entertainment Attorney and legal counsel to Chronixx, David Baram, New York based Entertainment Attorney and legal counsel to Bunny Wailer, Bob Andy, revered legendary reggae singer-songwriter and music producer, Warren Smith, CEO of SNWMF and moderator Sista Irie, photojournalist, reggae radio host and radio program producer. The panel was staged in response to the concerns of performers, music producers, managers, promoters and fans regarding the decline in Reggae music business activity and revenues within the North American music market. Over fifty persons representing a range of music and media professionals, including radio programmers and DJs, TV producers, photographers, magazine writers, record label executives, music distributors, show promoters, booking agents, artist managers, and attorneys participated in the panel discussion. A vibrant discussion pursued, one that will evolve by ongoing panels across North America. Issues raised included the lack of professionalism by key players within the industry, tax obligations of show promoters and international performers, the rise of homophobic lyrics and impact on artists and touring, lack of knowledge of the changing reggae industry by promoters and media, reduced emphasis on excellent songwriting and music production and the shift to digital and internet driven technology in music production, promotion and distribution. An official Reggae Business Network in North America (RBN-NA) will be established in the near future inviting those who attended to become seed members.
This year’s line-up offered a wide variety of founding fathers, including Ska Godfather Derrick Morgan, Original Jamaican Deejay Josey Wales, legendary toaster and creator of the beloved Stur Gav soundsystem Uroy, rocksteady and early reggae pioneers Carlton and the Shoes, Gladiator singer and solo artist Clinton Fearon, cherished three part harmony group The Tamlins, reggae’s legendary riddim twins Sly & Robbie, early danchehall vocalist Barrington Levy, UK rocksteady singer,Carroll Thompson, and the prolific and well respected singer songwriter Bob Andy. Such an astounding collection of early reggae contributors and historic music makers results in an enhanced knowledge of ‘the roots’ serving as formal education for a younger generation while gratifying an aging generation whose experience and love for early Jamaican music never fails. The ‘roots’ is a healing tonic enriching the heart and soul of a society whose love for musical talent combined with socially conscious messages infuses love, hope, unity and increased spiritual living.
Here Come the Rasta Youths!
Kabaka Pyramid and the Bebble Rockers as well as Raging Fyah left no doubt that the current Jamaican reggae evolution known as the Reggae Revival is a musical force changing the landscape of reggae music coming out of Jamaica. Their energetic, fresh and musically rich talent was fully appreciated by those who attended the Village Stage on Friday night (Kabaka Pyramid and Bebble Rockers) and the Valley stage (Raging Fyah) early Saturday afternoon. Many Reggae Revivalist musicians such as those in Raging Fyah studied at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts demonstrating a new generation of professionally trained players. Kabaka Pyramid is a serious social activist thinking with intellectual perspectives on the music industry as well as the significance of Rastafari demonstrated in a radio interview on KAZI 88.7 FM, Austin, with Sista Irie the Sunday before the festival. Raging Fyah brings another level of musical excellence not only live onstage but fully demonstrated with the release of their new cd ‘Destiny’ that will fully inspire and encourage even the most cynical fan about the state of reggae music. High level professionalism, musical excellence and talented singers have made a new appearance.
The critical importance and ongoing contributions of Rastafari infused singers and musicians Morgan Heritage, Tarrus Riley, Dean Fraser, bassist Glen Browne, Mykal Rose, Chuck Fenda, and UK based Black Slate fused the conscious vybz with musical perfection. Fans were fully engaged, crowding around the stages reflecting heartical devotion and unabashed adoration. These artists must be fully recognized as it is they who kept the Rasta Reggae flag waving during a time of chaos and fragmentation. Their music allowed and inspired reggae fans to remain faithful to the principles and spiritual attraction that roots reggae incited among believers in the early seventies. They have contributed significant importance to the ongoing energy allowing Reggae Revivalists to catch a fyah and rise to the crest. The integration of old, current and new reggae artists is the re-formation of an ailing industry and has blessed reggae fans with a history and future that has renewed energy to grow to new unrestricted heights.
“Twice” as Nice
UK sweetheart, Hollie Cook, appearing at SNWMF a second time in two years delivered delightful tidbits from a recent cd release entitled “Twice.” This cd has recently become one of my favorite new releases and will be included on many playlists to come. Hollie’s style is a uniquely blended fusion reminding fans that talented reggae women are a critical contribution in a historically male driven industry. Her professional savvy, little girl delivery and emotional appeal speaks to both women and men in a seductively haunting manner. Musically, the roots, dub and jazz integration along with smooth vocal delivery reminiscent of Sade will add a vitalized love energy and diversity to the roots/dancehall styles currently leading Jamaican based reggae charts.
Bitty and Tallawah
The word Bitty may imply small in Jamaican language, however, Bitty McLean gave one of the most talked about performances during the three day festival. Bitty McLean was given the nickname Bitty as a young boy due to his small stature, and yet, he has grown in musical stature since his work as a sound engineer with UB 40 soon after college. A vibrant singer and performer, UK based Bitty McLean has grown in reputation through the years and his appearance at SNWMF will result in a more established base of fans within the US.
Saturday night’s headliner Shaggy performed in front of a roaring crowd. His musical choices infused with less than conscious repertoire seemed out of place and not fully appreciated. One must understand Shaggy is not a roots reggae artist so his selection within a festival so closely bound to positive lyrics may just be poor placement. Shaggy, much like other sexually driven artists represents a side of Jamaican music, and deserves appreciation for the quality of musical presentation outside the focus of lyrics. Whether or not he should have been included on the SNWMF could be debated. No matter what, Shaggy always rates high with me due to his ongoing charity for the Bustamante Children’s Hospital and that he never promotes violence.
I was unable to attend all the stages and see all the talent offered this year. Those artists not mentioned in this article sadly were individuals or groups that I was unable to observe. My apologies to those artists as I have heard they contributed great performances appreciated by many. I hope they are captured in other reviews.
The SNWMF remains a festival that I have come to love for many reasons. Yes, I will leave the confines of Austin, Texas to remain a consistent devotee. Many who attend have become family to me. We come together much like a family reunion. Special appreciation goes out to other photographers and media people who work in concert with each other to provide a unified mission. In unity we deliver visual and auditory images that will go down in history to document the evolution of reggae and world music. Special thanks to Warren and Gretchen Smith, Daniel Frankston, and all SNWMF staff who contribute in unimaginable ways to enrich our lives. Thank you reggae fans for supporting the music en masse. Without you, the beat would not go on.