When you think of music festivals, in the US at least, you probably think of Coachella or Lollapalooza, maybe Bonnaroo, all of which boast of daily attendance numbers well into five figures, with overall totals into six. This pales in comparison with many of those in Europe, though, at least half a dozen of which show numbers well above that, with Glastonbury UK topping the list at some 175, 000 souls per day. Of course ‘Hardly Strictly Bluegrass’ festival in San Francisco this month might have that many if anybody bothered to count. It being a free festival, the only numbers are from the crowd controllers, i.e. police estimates. Nevertheless, Europe has so many festivals- in an area half the size of the US with twice the population- that it becomes something of a Mecca for many US bands looking to make hay while the sun shines. This leaves US fests to concentrate more on, how do you say, the ‘indie’ groups? Yes, with the exception of Bogota’s major festival, you would recognize the names of many, if not most, of the acts at the biggest festivals worldwide. We’re the jugglers and the clowns.
If you’re looking for ‘world music’ fests- (sound of loooong needle scratch on vinyl LP)- the selection goes way down way fast. Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festivals set the standard worldwide, with long-running events in UK, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, and elsewhere subject to local funding, Dubai being one of the newer more interesting offerings. Here stateside it’s pretty grim for the most part. We create most of the world’s music, remember, along with the UK, so there’s not much initiative to look elsewhere. ‘World music’ itself- music of other languages, cultures, and traditions besides the predominant Anglo one- come largely from the ex-pat African and Latino communities in our largest cities, and France, in addition to major ‘emerging countries’ themselves, such as India, Brazil, and Mexico. People gotta’ eat. Besides that the best music in the world today probably comes from tiny remote impoverished Islamic Mali, the landlocked heart of West Africa, the jigsaw puzzle piece linking African communities black and semitic, woodlands and desert.
!Globalquerque!, in (almost) equally remote and scenic Albuquerque, NM is one of the best world music festivals in the US. This year’s festival takes place on 9/16-17 and features such top world music acts as Los Amigos Invisibles, Cedric Watson, the inimitable Buffy Saint-Marie, and many others, google ‘em. The overlapping World Music Festival in Chicago hasn’t released their schedule yet, but usually shares some of the same bookings, convenient if you don’t happen to live in the greater Albuquerque metropolitan area. Other than that, Francophone-oriented Festival Louisiane in Lafayette, LA simultaneous with the jazz fest in N’awlins in April is by far the best… unless you count the entire summer in LA.
‘World music’ is to be found in North America, too, of course. Buffy Sainte-Marie is a Cree from Canada, and Andrew Thomas, also performing at !Globalquerque!, is a Dine’ (Navajo). When you think of Native American music, what do you usually think of, maybe the sound of a lonely flute echoing over the vast expanses of the Grand Canyon, perhaps best exemplified by Carlos Nakai? I like that, too, but ‘Indian’ music is much more than that, almost anything imaginable, actually. Native American music is not limited to the American Southwest, either, of course, nor does it stop at the two borders. In addition to Buffy Sainte-Marie, there are many others, both north and south. They’ve got shows for that now, too, in the spirit of SXSW and NXNE, specifically to showcase that talent and open them up to increased opportunities.
One of the newer showcases is the Aboriginal Music Week in Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 1-6, which should be diverse and good. The show will include the spacey Indie vibes of World Hood and the Metis fiddle of John Arcand. Then there’s the hip-hop of Winnipeg’s Most and Derek Miller’s roots-rock. Leela Gilday’s introspective folk-rock offerings are as good as any singer-songwriter in the business today, and the Electric Powwow electronica mind-bumfuggle of A Tribe Called Red simply has to be seen- and heard- to be believed. Check ‘em out.
Then there’s LA, which is something of a giant festival all summer… if you know where to go. I haven’t been out as much as usual this year, but still managed to catch Debo from Ethiopia, Bombino from Niger, and others, while missing far more than that simply because of scheduling conflicts or because I’d already seen them. Best part? It’s all free… So, if I achieve escape velocity to actually get out of the crib this weekend, I guesss I’ll just have to content myself with maybe Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loka at LACMA tonight or maybe Quetzal and Conjunto los Pochos down at Celebracion Mexicana in Macarthur Park on tomorrow, or possibly Pete Escovedo at Rum & Humble (yeah) in the courtyard at Hollywood & Highland on Tuesday. Then there’s Ernie Watts at the Farmers’ Market next Thursday. Damn! That’s as many shows as I’ve been to all summer! I used to do that in a single night. I’m younger than that now. C U there. Drive carefully.