Michael Franti plays WorldFest
By Paul Piazza
The 21st annual California WorldFest ended Sunday night with a spectacular set by Michael Franti & Spearhead that put an exclamation point on the four-day event in Grass Valley. Franti, who has long been an advocate for human rights, was in the midst of performing an upbeat song from the middle of the crowd, when he slowed it down for a moment .
“There is so much division right now over politics, the environment and sexuality that it’s important for you to speak out,” said Franti. “It’s still worth fighting for everyone on this planet to be healthy, happy and equal.” With that he launched back into his set, with the spirited crowd dancing hard while possibly thinking about what they could do to make the world a better place.
Franti’s performance was the capper to an incredible weekend that featured diverse musical choices by many artists with a heightened awareness for social and environmental action. There was a talented trio of women from Patagonia called Femina who are active in protests against domestic violence in Argentina and Magic Giant, a trio of high-energy upstarts from Los Angeles who pledged to plant a tree for each CD they sold. Native American rapper Supaman played a song about water protectors at Standing Rock called “Stand Up/Stand N Rock,” which featured verses in his Crow tribe’s native Asaalooke tongue.
Femina at WorldFest
It wasn’t by any means all about activism though. People mingled and reconnected. Children ran and played in the safe environment and the incredibly diverse music choices were widely embraced by all ages.
Simrit, a hypnotic world and chant artist moved festival goers in a unique way. The transcendent musician, who has ascended to number one on iTunes world music charts for multiple weeks, played two sensational sets with her five-piece group. Simrit’s music approaches the listener through higher vibrations, she said, as a means of cleaning the lens with which we see the world.
Simrit at WorldFest
In a conversation with Simrit, who resides in Nevada City, she explained that her music “goes inside our DNA structure and the sound current changes the consciousness. This can be used to empower and physically heal and have the ability to heal the diseases of the mind. The chants go inside our DNA and send current changes to the consciousness which can be used to empower and physically heal.” And true to her words, Simrit’s music had a obvious effect on the audience, with many responding physically in an empowering, trance-like dance.
Simrit’s music encompasses many influences. During performances, she wears a head dress inspired by her matrilineal lineage to the Minoan civilization of the island of Crete. She creates chants that originate from the Sanskrit language of Gurmukhi into a many layered sound. Her group featured the incredible Kora playing of Salif Bama Kora. (The Kora is a 21 stringed West African harp.)
Leyla McCalla at WorldFest
Leyla McCalla’s music echoed the collective memory of the ghosts that have shaped her lineage. The Haitian-American artist sings some songs in English and some in Creole. Some have Cajun influences, while others sound like traditional New Orleans jazz. Many tell stories representing her Haitian heritage. Her first album was inspired by the works of Langston Hughes and her second was inspired by a Haitian proverb. She plays banjo and guitar and is a virtuoso cellist. At one point, her husband, who also plays banjo in her trio, used a rusty Grass Valley horseshoe and screwdriver for percussion.
While musicians from all over the world performed at WorldFest, there were also workshops for dance, yoga and art. Due to the weekend heat, it was important for many to stay in the shade. The Alaskan group Pamyua, who play Inuit soul music, dedicated a song about ice in effort to try and help people feel cooler at one point. Many however, embraced the heat.
Franti, who was in nonstop motion from the moment he arrived at the festival, sat in on an outdoor yoga session, mingled with festival goers and worked up a pretty good sweat during his performance. The singer, who has written a children’s book, invited a dozen festival kids onstage to sing “Say Hey (I love you)” and brought out his 30-year-old son Cappy to sing a song. Those were just a few of the many memorable moments in a warm musical weekend in the foothills that was full of them.
Michael Franti practicing yoga