Lotus Festival 2015: A Global Block-Party
– by Paul Sturm & LuAnne Holladay
“You don’t know about me but I’ll bet you want to; Everything will be alright if we just keep dancing like we’re 22.” -Taylor Swift
Over the course of four fast-flying days (September 24-27), the 22nd annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival will fill our downtown streets and B-town hearts with fab musics from across the globe.
For the uninitiated, the annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival is an outrageously enjoyable music festival; one of our nation’s oldest and best-known world music gatherings. Artists from literally all over the world vie each year for a spot on the festival itinerary, so the talent is always impressive and performances are consistently inspiring.
This global shindig commingles a dizzying variety of world cultures presented through a broad range of sounds and musical styles. Lotus has booming party music, thoughtful chamber music, rowdy street bands, intimate solo and duo performers, emerging artists and experienced masters, acoustic groups and totally-wired amplified acts to enliven even the most aloof listener’s inner booty-shaker.
Festival performances are staged within a network of outdoor tents and indoor venues selected for their close-knit proximity. Which means that Lotus also delivers an exuberant, nomadic street scene with sidewalk food vendors, corner buskers, impromptu aesthetic experiences, and the perfect setting for endless social hookups and ‘BF’ hobnobbery.
Music is the main fare, but visual art and participatory activities abound for those who crave multiple ways to celebrate internationalism. Beginning August 28, the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Galleries will once again devote exhibit space to a Lotus-related exhibition of festival textiles (on view Aug.28-Sep.26, free & open to the public). Athena boutique (on Walnut) will host its usual hand-drum jam sessions in front of the shop.
On September 24, launching the 4-day festival is the annual Thursday night “Kick-Off Concert” at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, this year featuring Baltic Crossing and Sierra Maestra: two of the strongest ensembles in the Lotus-22 lineup. Admission is $15 advance, $20 day of show. Closing the festival on Sunday afternoon is the traditional “World Spirit Concert” at the BCT, featuring Maarja Nuut and Şirin Pancaroğlu, both making their Lotus premiere. Admission is the $5 Lotus pin (a cool keepsake!).
The Lotus Arts Village is moving from 6th Street to Kirkwood Avenue on the south side of the square (in front of Fountain Square Mall). The Village’s usual visual art displays and interactive play spaces will be accompanied by an assortment of food trucks providing delectable street munchies on Friday and Saturday. And fans of public revelry will delight in the return of a Lotus parade on Saturday night led by the members of Fanfaraï, giving our human caravan a lively North African flavor.
More free fun can be had at the annual “Lotus in the Park” family friendly fête on Saturday afternoon at Waldron/Hill/Buskirk Park (aka 3rd Street Park). Concerts, workshops and ‘make-it-&-take-it’ craft tents will be joined this year by four craft artists appearing as part of a partnership with Traditional Arts Indiana and its Indiana Bicentennial arts series. The artists – members of TAI’s Rotating Exhibit Network – provide demonstrations of their traditional craft alongside a free-standing 3×7-foot panel that features engaging photos and info describing the folklife practice. Also joining the Lotus Park action on Saturday will be Bloomington’s Ryan Academy of Irish Dance and a Filipino dance group from Indianapolis, both offering demonstrations.
Looking at the Friday-Saturday Artist Showcase nights, the ‘talent-nova’ will blow your mind and elevate your aesthetic ch’i. Ireland’s all-star Brock McGuire Band returns to provide that dash of Celtic music no Lo-fest would be complete without. The renowned Heritage Blues Orchestra will be in town for one night (Friday) in a set that will irrefutably affirm the power of the blues. On the opposite end of the size-spectrum, Korean duo Su:m will absolutely thrill those who love expressive chamber music performed on traditional acoustic instruments.
Lotus has booming party music, thoughtful chamber music, rowdy street bands, intimate solo and duo performers, emerging artists and experienced masters, acoustic groups and totally-wired amplified acts to enliven even the most aloof listener’s inner booty-shaker.
This year’s festival includes two performers who use electronics with spectacular musical results: Maarja Nuut and tUnE-yArDs demonstrate masterful digital looping technique, and tUnE-yArDs also offers a hefty dose of superb old-skool synth work. Where Maarja’s soundscapes are lushly harmonious, tUnE-yArDs’ loop-jams are lively and invigorating. If you seek unforgettably wonderful musical memories, these two acts are on the must-see list.
Lovers of rich polyphonic choral music will want to see Zedashe from the Republic of Georgia. Their close harmonies and pronounced vocal techniques are the stuff of sonic beauty. The emotional power of great singing also will resonate in many solo and ‘feature’ vocal performers: Bhi Bhiman, Ester Rada, Jessica Fichot, Karolina Cicha & Bart Pałyga, Lula Pena, Martha Redbone, and Nano Stern.
All in all, this year’s Lotus Festival includes 24 different musical acts, with only 6 returning bands; so it’s a perfect year to purchase a 2-night Festival Pass…there’s just that much brand new and superb musical talent to be heard and seen. And only a third of the performers are booked for single sets, which increases your odds of catching every artist by juggling performance venues and artist rosters across two nights of stone-cold sonic bliss.
Lotus Festival tickets for all admission-based events can be purchased in person at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater Box Office, by phone at 812-323-3020, or online at bctboxoffice.com.
Complete artist profiles follow:
Aziz Sahmaoui & University of Gnawa (Morocco, Senegal, France)
Moroccan Aziz Sahmaoui’s musical passions are rock, fusion, and Gnawa, the trance music of Northern Africa. His voice, swinging between the inflexions of bluesman, muezzin, and crooner, pulls the audience into his poetic universe where jubilation is the order of the day. With his talented squad of musicians – his ‘University of Gnawa’ – Aziz will funk your junk with hot tunes, rousing choruses, and an unstoppable beat to drive your feet. Pulsing Gnawan rhythms act as groundwork for inspiring musical improvisation by the high-flying instrumentalists of the University. As Aziz says: “The groove, you’ve either got it or you haven’t.” Ain’t that the truth!
Baltic Crossing (England, Finland, Denmark)
The soaring, joyous music of Baltic Crossing comes from the folk scenes of England and Scandinavia. This young quintet’s musical prowess and love of old dance traditions make for brilliant sets of jigs, polskas, waltzes, schottisches, and other tunes. Ian Stephenson (guitar) and Andy May (Northumbrian bagpipes & piano) hail from England; the Scandinavian side is represented by Danish musician Kristian Bugge (violin), and Esko Järvelä (violin) and Antti Järvelä (mandolin & double bass) from Finland. Baltic Crossing’s repertoire is mostly instrumental, often playful, and always tuneful. Fans of Frigg will recognize brothers Esko & Antti, and will find a lot to love in Baltic Crossing.
Bhi Bhiman (USA)
American singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman is known for his fine guitar playing, his clever and edgy lyrics, and a remarkable voice that has earned comparisons to such artists as Nina Simone and Bill Withers. His most recent album, Rhythm & Reason, explores the immigrant experience and the politics of race. The American-born son of Sri Lankan parents, he says that “My sense of place was, is, not limited to my county or my state or my country. It’s…an international feeling of community.” His stylish covers of classic songs make excellent companions to his original material, and Bhi is equally comfortable performing at Bonnaroo, Carnegie Hall, or on a Lotus stage.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY
Brock McGuire Band (Ireland)
Last seen at Lotus in 2011, the Brock McGuire Band returns to town performing Irish music with passion and precision. Founding members Paul Brock (button accordion & melodeon) and Manus McGuire (fiddle) now live in County Clare, and both are award-winning masters of Irish traditional music. The band also includes Dublin-based Garry O’Meara on banjo, mandolin, & vocals, and Limerick-based composer and arranger Denis Carey on piano. Their repertoire emphasizes Irish music; but don’t be surprised if they toss in a few arrangements of American old-time, bluegrass, French-Canadian, and other Celtic tunes. Discover why the Irish American News calls them the Instrumental Band of the Decade.
Delhi 2 Dublin (Canada)
A Delhi 2 Dublin set is possibly the only place you’ll see a fiddle player rocking out with a kilt-wearing Korean, flanked by two Bhangra percussionists and a vocalist who looks like he would be at home in a Bollywood music video. The group began in 2006 as a one-off performance in a Vancouver club, and they’ve been at it ever since, throwing Bhangra, Celtic, dub, reggae, and electronica into a musical blender. Match that multiculti fearlessness with electrifying live performances and you have a perfect Lo-fab dance storm. They brought the funk, the sweat, and a hard-rocking tent scene at their solitary Lotus show back in 2012; this year, make D2D your last-call party stop on Friday and Saturday to find out why one reviewer called them “the United Nations of rock and roll.”
Ester Rada (Israel, Ethiopia)
Ester Rada was born in Israel to Ethiopian parents, and her cross-cultural sound builds on that dual heritage. Her band’s instrumentation and arrangements reflect Israeli music, the influence of Ethiopian jazz, strong rhythmic drive, and a multicultural sensibility. Listen to her powerful, confident vocals and solid grooves, and it’s also easy to trace Ester’s influences to divas of classic and contemporary soul and R&B: Aretha Franklin, Pattie LaBelle, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott. Members of the band come from Yemen, Poland, Morocco, Iraq, and Israel. Ester’s musical melting pot serves up a delicious stew of sonic delights.
Fanfaraï (France, Algeria, Morocco)
Fanfaraï fuses a cultural mix of 14 musicians for a colorful explosion of North African music. The Paris-based group grew in 2005 out of a smaller Algerian street band, adding musicians from France, Morocco, and India who share a passion for what they call “the traditions of festive wanderings.” Brassy horns and booming percussion blend with Arab, Berber, Afro-Cuban, and Latin influences to create big, bold street music. Fanfaraï draws on popular brass-band repertoire, salsa, jazz, and funk, as well as the heritage of Idbalen and Zernadjia – itinerant street musicians who have animated Algerian rituals and feasts since the turn of the 20th century. Fanfaraï’s music embodies an energetic, cheerful diversity – as lively and varied as the musicians themselves.
Heritage Blues Orchestra (USA)
The grit of low-down country and urban blues mixed with the bold brass of New Orleans; the hand-clapping fervor of gospel punctuated with fiery postmodern, jazz-infused horn arrangements; the haunting cries of work songs and pulsating drums that reach back to musical roots centuries old. You’ll journey across the Middle Passage, be driven down Highway 49 from Clarksdale to New Orleans, go from chain gangs and juke joints to orchestra pits, church pews, and even back porches. The celebrated Heritage Blues Orchestra’s music is a testament to the enduring power, possibilities, and boundless beauty of African-American music. “Heritage Blues Orchestra may be a blues version of what Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center cohorts regularly do—namely, apply historical research and practical experience to different traditional styles, and finally (and not easily) to create something that is at once new and timeless” (Wall Street Journal).
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY
Jaron Freeman-Fox & the Opposite of Everything (Canada)
Canadian violinist and composer Jaron Freeman-Fox straddles the shifting border between tradition and innovation. The name of his band – the Opposite of Everything – hints at what he likes to call the general lunacy and creative drive of his music. His musical roots are in Celtic and bluegrass fiddling, but Jaron’s further study of Indian classical music and jazz has helped to push his music further into genre-defying realms. He’s even collaborated with a troupe of Rajasthani nomads. You could call this restless energy and boisterous enthusiasm “The New Ruckus” (the title of a track on Jaron’s first CD), or you could just take it from the Ottawa International Jazz Festival folks, who dubbed Jaron “the Jimi Hendrix of the violin.”
Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project (Canada, USA)
Focusing on songs collected by legendary folklorist and field recording pioneer Alan Lomax, this ‘collaboratory’ led by Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone brings together some of North America’s most distinctive and creative roots musicians to revive, recycle, and re-imagine traditional music. The song list includes Bahamian sea chanties, African-American a cappella singing from the Georgia Sea Islands, ancient Appalachian ballads, fiddle tunes, and work songs collected from both well-known musicians and everyday folk: sea captains, cowhands, fishermen, prisoners, and homemakers. This was and is music of the people. Lomax Project album collaborators are many; those likely to be on hand for Lotus include Jayme on banjo, Grammy Award winner Tim O’Brien on fiddle, Margaret Glaspy on guitar, and Moira Smiley on accordion. The Lomax Project is this year’s Lotus Dickey Artist, honoring that late, great Indiana old-time musician and song writer.
Jessica Fichot (USA)
Los Angeles-based chanteuse, songwriter, and accordionist Jessica Fichot is a lot like her hometown of Paris: French at heart, but with a soul that’s truly international. Drawing from a French, Chinese, and American upbringing, her music fuses styles and languages, taking the listener on a journey out of the French chanson tradition and into the realms of gypsy jazz, 1940s Chinese swing, international folk, and her own imagination. Jessica visited Lotusland for the first time back in 2010; she returns to Bloomington with a new album sung in Mandarin: Dear Shanghai. Armed with accordion, toy piano, and multilingual vocals, Fichot has toured the world with her quartet of like-minded multi-culturalists. Préparer pour la béatitude musicale, dear Francophiles.
The four young women of Kardemimmit sing and play the Finnish national instrument – the kantele. If you’re new to the kantele, think zither or dulcimer: the quartet has mastered both the 15-stringed and 38-stringed varieties. The distinctive sound of this plucked acoustic instrument and their delicate, tight vocal harmonies in a style of singing known as reki make Kardemimmit a standout contemporary Nordic ensemble. Maija Pokela, Jutta Rahmel, Anna Wegelius and Leeni Wegelius perform traditional Finnish songs as well as their own modern, original folk music – adding to a long and dynamic musical tradition. This quartet racked up an enthusiast following of B-town fans when they played Lotus two years ago; their live performances are simply divine.
Karolina Cicha & Bart Pałyga (Poland)
Karolina Cicha’s impassioned, compelling interpretations of the old songs of the Kresy (the Polish Eastern Borderlands) mix folk tradition, rock and pop, and performance art. Karolina sings in the languages of the Kresy: Polish, Belorussian, Ukrainian, Russian, Lithuanian, Tatar, Romani, Yiddish, and even Esperanto — and while her primary instrument is the accordion, she is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist. A student of Poland’s diverse cultural traditions, Karolina honed her art at the renowned Gardzienice Academy for Theatre Practices. With cellist and vocalist Bart Pałyga, Karolina brings a new boldness and energy to old songs of Poland’s multi-ethnic cultural landscape.
Lotus Dickey Song Workshop (USA)
Bloomington folk music maestro, Grey Larsen, will once again recruit a cadre of his pals to lead a workshop on the songs of Hoosier singer/songwriter Lotus Dickey (1911-1989). Lotus was a Hoosier treasure; his curious, humble, gentle spirit inspired everyone who knew him. The workshop is an occasion to celebrate Lotus Dickey’s contributions to the art and life of Indiana and to enjoy the power of voices united in song.
ONE SHOW ONLY
Lula Pena (Portugal)
Fado, the signature musical tradition of Portugal, is embodied in the voice and music of Lula Pena. Elements of Portuguese folk music, French chanson, Cape Verdean morna, and Brazilian bossa nova color Lula’s music, but its heart is in fado. Her deep, sensitive voice and spare guitar work communicate the feeling of powerful longing, or saudade, essential to the genre. Thoughtful, emotional, poetic, stark, mesmerizing: all apply to her unforgettable performances. Lula has rarely toured outside Portugal, and Lotus is proud to present her at this year’s festival.
Maarja Nuut (Estonia)
Lyrical, trippy, trancelike, transcendent: fiddler Maarja Nuut creates remarkable soundscapes from the traditional dance tunes, songs, and stories of her native Virumaa in Northern Estonia. Using electronics, she often builds from a single violin motif, deftly looping it and adding harmonic layers with voices and violin improvisations. An Estonian loopmaster in the Andrew Bird/Robert Fripp mode, Maarja spins inventive and beautiful sounds from simple musical origins. Her performances are unforgettable: deeply folkloric, yet thoroughly modern. Her premiere at Lotus is not to be missed.
Martha Redbone Roots Project (USA)
Martha Redbone is an Independent Music Award-winning musician of Cherokee, Choctaw, Shawnee, and African-American descent. Martha explores traditional and modern variations of folk, roots, blues, tribal, and soul music. She launched the Martha Redbone Roots Project in 2012 with release of The Garden of Love – Songs of William Blake, a collection of 18th-century poems set to the music of Appalachia. Her latest project, Bone Hill, is an interdisciplinary theater work that brings to light the post-slavery history of people of color working the coal mines of Appalachia amid Jim Crow laws. The music is radically wide-ranging – from traditional Cherokee chants and lullabies to bluegrass, blues, gospel, jazz, rock and roll, R&B, and funk – all powered by her magnificent voice. In the words of collaborator Roberta Uno, “Martha’s music is ancestral, soul-shaking, and elevating.”
Nano Stern (Chile)
Chilean singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and musical activist Nano Stern serenades audiences with nothing but a guitar and his voice, bringing listeners to the edge of their seat – and to their feet – to move, laugh, weep, and revel in heartfelt songs of Chile. The grandson of Jewish refugees, Stern has created a sound that incorporates the mid-century folk reverberations of his homeland with rock attitude, classical craft, and jazz techniques. He explores the complexities of the personal and political, and finds new ways to play with Chile’s long-repressed roots music. It’s a mix that also captures the indigenous, African, and European elements that define Latin music. “It’s an enormous gift we received from the people of the past, from the tradition itself,” he says. “Yet…I think it should be open to all kinds of promiscuity, to every sound getting together with everything else. That’s when things get truly beautiful.”
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY
Sierra Maestra (Cuba)
Featuring many stars of Cuban music since the group’s formation in the late 1970s, Sierra Maestra was the first of the modern-era Cuban bands to play in the old-style son line-up: tres (3-string Cuban guitar), guitar, trumpet, percussion (bongo & güiro), and vocals. The arrangement reflects the song style’s golden age of the 1920s and ‘30s. Five of the original nine members remain in the band, which has pioneered the son revival for new generations. The band’s name is a tribute to the mountain range in eastern Cuba that is considered the birthplace of son. With our Cuban détente, and Carnival Cruise Lines announcing trips to Cuba, it’s a perfect year to bring la cultura cubana back to Bloomington via Sierra Maestra: the heartbeat of Cuban soul. Fun Lotus fact: Sierra Maestra was last in town for Lotus 1997, gracing the ‘stage’ of the old Indiana Theater before it was transformed into the Buskirk-Chumley. They’re in for a treat…and so are we.
ONE SHOW ONLY
Şirin Pancaroğlu (Turkey)
Her work in unearthing the historical Turco-Ottoman harp called the çeng has earned Şirin Pancaroğlu a unique place in Turkish music and folklore. While she is trained in classical music (with a Master’s degree from the IU Jacobs School of Music), her eclectic influences include Turkish traditional music, improvisation, electronic music, and tango. Şirin’s efforts to re-introduce the harp to wider audiences in her native Turkey led her to active concertizing and to founding the Association for the Art of the Harp. Once a symbol of mysticism among Turkish poets and writers, the çeng has reemerged in contemporary Turkish folk music, thanks largely to Şirin and her music-making.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY
숨[suːm] (South Korea)
숨[suːm] was formed in 2007 by a pair of Korean musicians trained in traditional instruments. They had an ambitious goal: to start a new era of Korean folk music grounded in the experience of modern life. The band’s name (pronounced “soom”) means “breath.” They compose and perform original work on traditional instruments: Jiha Park plays the piri (bamboo oboe), saenghwang (24-pipe mouth organ), and yanggeum (dulcimer), while Jungmin Seo performs on both the 25-string and steel-string gayageum (zither). This is a rare opportunity to hear exceptional music of an instrumental discipline and tradition rife with gorgeous sounds.
Trio Brasileiro (Brazil)
This young trio’s stunning virtuosity is matched with a deep devotion to the language of music – specifically choro, a traditional Brazilian genre marked by intricate, lively rhythms, gorgeous melodies, and improvisation. Trio Brasileiro includes Dudu Maia, one of Brazil’s finest players of the bandolim (a kind of mandolin); the celebrated Douglas Lora on violão 7 cordes (7-string guitar); and the amazing percussionist, Alexandre Lora (brother of Douglas) who plays the pandeiro (a kind of tambourine). Trio Brasileiro is dedicated to performing the great traditional choro music of Brazil as well as their own compositions, which are modern reflections of that great traditional musical form. Their sets at Lotus 2012 were popular and packed; if you missed them then, catch them now.
ONE SHOW ONLY
tUnE-yArDs is fresh, avant-garde, experimental, groovy, poppy, funky — pick a word to describe Merrill Garbus’s band and a reviewer somewhere in the world has already used it. In addition to writing the music, Merrill (on lead vocals, percussion, ukulele, and a wide assortment of samplers & electronics) and her collaborator (and Bloomington native), Nate Brenner on bass & synthesizers, are joined by an ever-changing array of bandmates to create a post-modern sonic stew; “a lovably scrappy, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic that is distinctly their own” (SPIN). Named the top looping artist by BaebleMusic, tUnE-yArDs has a unique sound driven by a relentless hippy-shake groove that comes from Merrill’s love of percussive hooks, pop chords, and singsong melodies. One of the greatest bands I know, tUnE-yArDs is a must-see act.
Lotus premiere; ONE SHOW ONLY
Zedashe (Republic of Georgia)
Zedashe’s repertoire is grounded in ancient polyphonic chants from Orthodox Christian liturgy as well as folk songs and dances from the Kiziqian and Svanetia regions of the Republic of Georgia. Field songs, love songs, historical ballads, war dances, ritual circle dances: these traditional pieces have been passed down through generations of musicians and song masters. The close vocal harmonies are often accompanied by the shunner (Svan lute), pander (Kiziq lute), chonguri (Gurian lute), doll (drum), chibonie (goat-skin bagpipes), and accordion. In the music and song of Zedashe, rich folk traditions that trace back to Pagan and early Christian periods come to life and revitalize the soul.