We Just Saw Music Unite: A Review Of This Year’s Lotus Festival

We attended Bloomington’s annual world music-and-art festival at a time when ”globalism” ain’t exactly everybody’s cup of kombucha. Here’s what we found there.

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A performance at Bloomington’s Lotus World Music & Arts Festival

Ellen Glover

On Saturday evening, on the final leg of this year’s Lotus World Music & Arts Festival, 26 artists representing about 20 different countries performed their final shows for the thousands of people who took to the streets of downtown Bloomington. Brandishing the hashtag #MusicUnites, this event’s mission was to bring people from all walks of life into one place to appreciate music from all over the world together.

“It’s about encountering the world’s music in a respectful and creative way,” said Sunni Fass, the executive director of Lotus, in a recent interview. “This is more important than ever right now.”

It’s impossible to see all of the festival’s concerts at once. But, no matter where the night takes you, the leaders at Lotus guarantee you’ll hear some great music, because the first thing they look for when building their roster is artistic talent. “We have musical masters and exciting new talents, all of them world-class quality,” says Fass.

The first artists of my night were Giri and Uma Peters, a brother-and-sister bluegrass duo straight out of Nashville. Lately there’s been a lot of buzz around these two because of both their ages and unique heritage: Giri is 12, Uma is 10, and both are Indian-American. This has caused them to standout in a community that is often seen as old-timey and predominantly made up of white, Christian males. However, these young talents haven’t let their individuality hinder their steadily rising fame.

As Giri played at his fiddle and Uma her clawhammer banjo, their bright voices cutting through the air and bouncing from the rafters at Bloomington’s First Christian Church, even the most seasoned blues player would be impressed with what they were hearing. The two played jumpy tunes that had the packed pews clapping their hands and hollering, and twangy blues that made the crowdmembers close their eyes and nod their heads to the beat.

The Peters kids revamped old standards like “Sitting On Top of the World” by the Mississippi Sheiks and the bluegrass classic “The Cuckoo,” which was taught to them by country musician, Rhiannon Giddens.

But the song that got the biggest applause was one Uma wrote herself, called “How to Help the World.” In it, Uma references everything going on in the world, from the importance of picking up litter to the refugee crisis, and insists, “I’m just a little girl, but I can do a lot, I can inspire others to change their thoughts.”

Refugees and immigrants were also paid tribute at a neighboring performance by the world-famous group Making Movies, an alternative Afro-Latin rock group out of Kansas City, Missouri, whose recent self-released album I Am Another You hit No. 3 on the Latin Billboard charts and No. 8 on the World Music charts.

Lotus World Music & Arts Festival runs for four days every autumn

As the early autumn sun set behind them, the group belted out politically charged anthems, singing in both Spanish and English, as the audience drank beer and swayed their hips.

The energetic, Latin beats were carried over into the church next door, where Ladama, an all-female ensemble from Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, and the U.S. was performing. The group takes traditional instrumentation and styles from their native countries and combines them to create original compositions sung in Portuguese, Spanish, and English. They also took some time out of their set to teach the crowd about a few of the instruments used, and even encouraged them to participate in a call-and-response Brazilian tune.

The performance began as a calm one. Everyone sat on the wooden benches and occasionally raised a fist from their lap and nodded as the group’s lead singer, Sara Lucas, pleaded “where is my God? Where is my money?” and insisted that “we can still dream like we were children” in protest songs.

But by the end, what started off as a tentative audience became a lively swarm of people dancing in the aisles and gleefully shouting and clapping. “There is so much joy everywhere!” proclaimed group percussionist Daniela Serna.

Ladama, like all of the other groups that came out for this year’s Lotus Festival, set out to unite people with their music, an honorable feat at time of such divisiveness.

“There are issues in Venezuela and Brazil and the United States, all different,” said Serna. “But music and culture and education are powerful weapons. There is suffering and conflict, but we want to show you how music is a weapon that can change and expand our minds.”

 

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