Thursday, June 17, 2010

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.

Baaba Maal and Lloyd, Lloyd Brown and World Music Stars Take the Stage at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
By Shelah Moody

            For 17 years, concert promoter Warren Smith and Epiphany Artists have brought the best in reggae and world music to northern California as part of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival Summer Solstice and World Peace Celebration.
            This year’s festival, held at Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville this weekend (June 18-20), will showcase international and local talent such as Baaba Maal (Senegal),  Gregory Isaacs, (Jamaica) Alborosie (Italy), Fat Freddy’s Drop, (New Zealand),  Lloyd Brown (England) Wadi Gad (Bay Area) the Dubtonic Kru (Jamaica).
            Recently, I had the privilege of speaking with world renowned Senegalese singer and master musician Baaba Maal in a phone interview from Palm Pictures offices in London. Maal said he is looking forward to returning to the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.
Maal will bring about seven musicians with him playing traditional instruments such and the djembe and the harp. Maal sings primarily in his native language, Pulaar,
            Maal comes from a line of fishermen. His family name, comes from the empire of Mali and means “hippo.” His first name “Baaba” is a traditional name given to guide or a male head of a family.
Maal, who has more than 16 albums to his credit,  is currently promoting his latest,  “Television,” which addresses issues such as climate change and global influence of the media. Maal is currently involved with an organization called Africa Talks Climate.
            “The environment is really important in Africa,” said Maal. “I come from a nomadic tribe and they need to get information on climate change so they can understand what’s happening to them. I’m working closely with the United Nations Development Program on the Millennium Goals. We just have a song that we did with Angelique Kidjo, Oliver Mtukudzi and Yvonne Shaka Shaka that which will be presented at the World Cup, called ‘Eight Goals Away.’ These are the eight goals that I think Africa should achieve during this competition. We are supporting the Millennium Goals to bring awareness on the importance of education, protection of the environment, and giving power to women to get the right place in society. All of this we are doing through music.”
            Maal is known for his expansive range and griotic vocal style. He says he trains his voice by listening to instruments.
            “Instruments are the best way for a singer to develop their voice,” said Maal.
“You know your music and your lyrics, but instruments have different personalities. If you want to make the range of your voice get very wide or big or diverse, I think practicing with instruments, both African and Western is important. Melody is what I’m talking about. We practice singing a lot. We don’t wait until we go on stage or until we have concerts to practice. We sing every time, every day we get a chance to sing, when we are at home in the living room. When we are invited to have dinner at friend’s houses, after dinner, we pick up the instruments and do two or thee songs. It keeps the voice in form. To be able to sing like a bird, the voice needs to be free, without restriction. This is how singers are in Africa.”
            Maal said he learned to sing as a child by listening to his mother and the town griots.
            “They were not professional musicians; they did not expect to travel with music, it was just part of their lives,” said Maal. “I think I was blessed to be able to use my voice in the business and to get opportunities, but at the same time, it’s just a natural instrument that I use to express myself and my life.”
            Lloyd Brown is looking forward to his first Sierra Nevada World Music Festival performance. He said he is absolutely stoked and delighted to be able to perform. He will be backed by a band called Riddim Works.
          Because of his sensual baritone, the reggae/soul singer has been referred to as the British Barry White. Brown, who lives in London, has acquired a large fan base in northern California, performing at venues such as the annual Monterey Bay Reggaefest, the Ashkenaz in Berkeley, Sweet Fingers restaurant in San Leandro and Pier 23 in San Francisco. Brown attributes part of his success to his fans and his manager, Denise Gore, who lives in Sacramento. Gore coined the phase “to see and hear Brown is to really know him.”  Brown’s hits include “Main Squeeze,” “Show Me that You Love Me,” Share the Night” and “Know Yourself.”
            “I’ve also been called the British Frank Sinatra and the British Beres Hammond,” said Brown. “I feel I’m in illustrious company with that role call of artists. Those artists have influenced me. I’m giving my influences to my fans.”
            Brown’s career spans more than 25 years and 13 albums. He specializes in a style of reggae called lover’s rock, which originated in England.
            “Lover’s rock originated in the early to mid seventies in the UK,” said Brown. “A lot of music from Jamaica had a very rootical quality about it. The UK being the first destination that reggae took from Jamaica, we embraced it to a point where we developed style within the reggae genre that had a more romantic feel. Because we live in a cold climate, we make nice round warm music that bring people together.”
            In that case, be prepared for a musical meltdown; temperatures at the fairgrounds are expected to soar past 80 degrees during the day.

What: 17th Annual Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
Where: Mendocino Campgrounds, Boonville, CA.
When: Friday June 18-Sunday June 20.
Information: (916) 777-5550, 
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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Harmony Festival Features Grammy Winners Ms. Lauryn Hill and Steel Pulse

32nd Annual Harmony Festival Features Grammy Winners Ms. Lauryn Hill and Steel Pulse
By Shelah Moody

    Grammy winning singer/songwriter Ms. Lauryn Hill will give a rare and exclusive performance at the 32nd Annual Harmony Festival at Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, June 11-13. The three day festival, which will include yoga workshops, psychics,social activists, physicists, gurus, a children’s area, organic food, acrobatics and techno-tribal dance, will also feature Grammy winning reggae artists Steel Pulse, Lyrics Born & Chali 2na, Fishbone and speakers such as Dr. Bruce Lipton  and Swami Beyondonanda.  Unfortunately, Ms. Hill was unable for comment.Fortunately, I did have the pleasure of speaking with David Hinds, founding member of British Reggae Steel Pulse, who’ve produced revolutionary albums such as “True Democracy, Babylon the Bandit” (Grammy winner, 1985), “Earth Crisis”  and “Tribute to the Martyrs.” They are getting ready to release a documentary on DVD on Steel Pulse’ expansive history.
    Hinds, Steel Pulse’s lead singer/songwriter said he is looking forward to playing the Harmony festival on Friday night, June 11 and Saturday evening, June 12. Steel Pulses’ nine piece band also features founding member Selwyn Brown (keyboads/vocals/melodica) and the neo-reggae, jazz and R&B stylings of Sidney Mills (keyboards).  In their thirty plus history as a band, Steel Pulse has been anti-colonization, pro-Africa and involved in many global causes. Hinds wrote a song for Haiti soon after the country’s devastating earthquake “You are Africa’s first descendents/For Haiti/For the struggle for independence/For Haiti!/For your fortitude and resilience/For Haiti!/Toussaint L’Oveture’s investments/For Haiti!/You can’t afford to be redundant/For Haiti!”Hinds said Steel Pulse hopes to visit Haiti sometime this year through the Solar Electric light fund.  I asked Hinds, who is a vegetarian and a Rastafarian, what health and harmony meant to him“If it’s all about health, I’m all about health,” said Hinds. If it’s all about harmony between people of different races, cultures, creeds and lifestyles, I’m all about that, too.  Hinds spoke about some of the activists and spiritual leaders who have influenced him. “Julia Butterfly influenced me to write the song ‘Global Warning” because of her efforts trying to save the trees in California, said Hinds. “There have been so many leaders throughout the development of the black Diaspora, who have influenced me. I see the black activists, such as Angela Davis and George Jackson, as spiritual leaders. Their efforts brought me into the political mode from the age of 13-14. Bob Marley’s music was an outlet and a voice to air his opinions. I thought it was necessary for me to do that from my perspective and my standpoint living in England. I don’t have anyone I am following in church such as Jimmy Swaggart or Billy Graham. It’s time that we got back to spiritually leading herself, don’t you think?”  I also spoke with Sean Ahearn, co-owner and programming director of the Harmony Festival. Ahearn said that more than 40 acres of the Sonoma fairgrounds will be utilized for the festival, which will host more than 300 vendors.“We are trying to create balance and harmony in our world and we do that in many ways-music, art, ecology, and healthy living,” said Ahearn. “The artists that we book and the events that we program are interrelated to those themes. That makes us kind of unique. We are not just booking the biggest bands with the biggest following for the most money. Everything that we do here has a mission, a message and a purpose from the performers to the vendors.”Ahearn said the music selection will include everything from classic rock to hip hop and reggae. Rock icon Wavy Gravy of the Grateful Dead, perhaps one of the world’s most famous clowns, will lead a parade at the Harmony festival on Saturday June 12.   Ahearn said that the elusive Ms. Lauryn Hill’s appearance is definitely one of the highlights of the Harmony Festival. Ms. Hill, a former member of the Fugees who swept the Grammy Awards in 1999 for her signature album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,”  will close out the festival on Sunday, June 13. Ahearn said Ms. Hill reached out to the festival herself and asked to perform.“(Ms. Hill) is  the biggest artist to perform at the Harmony festival, possibly the North Bay,” said Ahearn. She’s coming with her 12 piece band all the way from the east coast.  She heard about the festival and contacted us through her management. She was looking for something special to do this summer. She is going to spend a couple days in wine country and then head home. What we are about resonated with her. It was an easy sell. We are very blessed to have her coming out. It’s going to be an action pact weekend.”What: 32nd Annual Health and Harmony Festival featuring Ms. Lauryn Hill, Steel Pulse, Slightly Stoopid, Chali 2na & Lyrics Born, Zappa Plays Zappa, Rebelution and others.
When: July 11-13
Where: Sonoma County Fairgrounds, Santa Rosa, CA.
For performance schedules and more information visit

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Word on the Street with Damian Marley and Nas

"Word on the Street", with Damian Marley and Nas
 Shelah Moody, Reporting.
What a Bam Bam!
The month of May brought many legendary reggae acts to the Bay Area, including Toots and the Maytals at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco (05/18) and Reggae/Dance-hall/Hip-Hop icons Damian Marley and Nas at the Fox Theater in Oakland (05/25).
Despite an ongoing recession and a fundraiser for the Democratic Party featuring President Barak Obama at the Fairmount in San Francisco , Marley and Nas played to a sold out house.
Prior to their performance, Damian and Nas made a special appearance at Rasputin record store in Berkeley to sign posters copies of their latest CD “Distant Relatives” (Republic Records).
Super fan Felicia Curtis was one hundreds of people who stood in line in the rain that overcast Wednesday afternoon in hopes of meeting Nas and Damian Marley. Curtis was decked out in the Rastafarian colors of red green and gold and Bob Marley memorabilia, as fine drops of precipitation fell on her dreadlocks. Curtis sees Bob Marley as a champion of diversity and peace, and believes his music is especially  relevant in light of the wave of violence that has recently plagued Jamaica ’s music capitol, Kingston. Curtis said she came to the signing because she had the day off and said she was unable to purchase tickets because the show at the Fox Theater was sold out. White had been listening to “Distant Relatives” on the way to Rasputin and described it as a culturally dynamic collaboration.
“What do I like about Damian Marley—I love everything about him,” said White. “I love his style and I love the fact that he’s been in the music business for so long from such an early age and he’s keeping his father’s legacy alive. Both Nas and Damian Marley are socially aware of what’s going on, on different levels.”
Thanks to our longtime friendship with Marley’s road manager, Ali “Pretty” Cooke, we had the privilege of watching and documenting Nas and Damian Marley from the wings of the stage. There was special seating set aside for the children of first and second generation Jamaicans who are living in the Bay Area. I call these children the “Baby Bumps,” because I knew many of their mothers when they were pregnant with them. You can see what happened when one of them got a hold of my camera.
Backed by a dynamic Jamaican band called The Council, it was non stop energy when the prince of reggae and the prince of hip hop took the stage. Nas performed his string of hits including “Hip Hop is Dead” and “If I Ruled the World” and Marley performed hits from his two Grammy winning albums “Halfway Tree” and “Welcome to Jamrock.” The two came together on their first collaboration “Road To Zion,” tracks from “Distant Relatives” and Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” leaving the audience hungry for more.
Backstage after the show, I caught up with backing vocalists Ros Williams and Rovleta Frazier, who definitely got a workout while freestyle dancing during Marley’s version of his father’s song “Exodus.”
“I feel exhausted but good; it was a great show,” said Williams. “We go to Santa Cruz from here.”
I asked Williams to pick her favorite part of the show.
“I really love the ends when Nas and Damian come together at the end of ‘Africa Wake Must Wake Up.’ It’s such an iconic moment, such a photographic moment for me.”
“The show was smashing, I had a wonderful time, it was full of good vibes and energy,” said Frazier. “It was good for the people.”
 Next, I waited for my turn to interview Damian Marley in his dressing room, where he was surrounded by family and friends. While Damian was being interviewed by Carmelita Harris of Irievision TV (Channel 29) San Francisco , I approached his longtime bassist and best friend, Shiah Coore.
Shiah, like Damian, is also the son of a music legend--Stephen “Cat” Coore, guitarist, bassist, classical cellist and founding member of the band Third World (the first reggae artists to appear on “Soul Train).
Shiah Coore is an alumnus of Berklee College of Music in Boston and majored in music production and performance. In their teens, Damian and Shiah founded a group called the Shepherds, who cut their teeth performing at large scale festivals such as Reggae Sunsplash ’92 and Sunsplash ’92 Bob Marley Tribute.
            “I’m a big fan of soul and R&B, and I would love to play for some of those types of artists, said Coore. “That’s one of my dreams, but I’m still living my dream right now.”
            I asked Coore what the energy was like between Damian and Nas on stage, and the relationship between reggae and hip hop.
            “Hip hop and reggae are from the same roots, it’s like a tree with different branches. We honor hip hop and we respect hip hop. The energy is incredible, they have a natural chemistry. I’m glad to be a part of this. This is a magical moment for me.”
            Which brings me to my brief conversation with the man of the hour, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, who was born to Robert Nesta Marley and beauty queen Cindy Breakspeare (Miss World) in 1977. I asked Damian how he felt after the show.
            To clarify: Damian refers to himself, like many Rastafarian's, in the royal “we.”
            “We feel irie, you know, nice show, Oakland . It’s the first time we got to present the album live for the Oakland people, and they received it well so we’re feeling good, you know.”
            Damian also gave us some background on “Distant Relatives,” which in my opinion will receive a Grammy nod in the reggae and hip hop categories.
            “Distant Relatives” is collaboration between Nas and myself, themed upon Africa and all of the relatives of Africa , which basically encompass all of humanity. It’s an album that goes back to the roots of things. The music has that kind of feel, it has a blend of reggae, hip hop and African influences.”
            Damian and Nas first worked together in 2005 on the track “Road To Zion” on “Welcome to Jamrock.”
            “He called me also to do some work for his ‘’Hip Hop is Dead album,” said Damian. “Unfortunately, the track we did together did not make the album in the end. We started working on ‘Distant Relatives’ early last year. On an off we’ve been in and out of the studio working on it.”
            I asked Damian about some of his favorite tracks on “Distant Relatives.”
            “It would just depend on the mood,” said Damian. “When I’m reminiscing about my friends, it would be obviously a track called ‘Friends.” If I’m in more of an intellectual mood, I’ll listen to ‘Patience.’ If I’m in an aggressive mood I listen to ‘Nah Mean” or ‘Dispear,’ If I want to cool out, I listen to ‘Count Your Blessings.’
We have a track for every purpose.”
            During their “Distant Relatives Tour” Damian and Nas also hit the Jimmy Kimmel and Tavis Smiley late night shows.
            “This is the second time I’ve been on the Tavis Smiley show, and I wanna tell you seh, I like his show. Most of the TV shows I go on, I usually sing and rather than sit down and talk. We didn’t sing on his show, we just sat down and talked to him. He’s a man I really respect, how he presents himself on her sho, even when he was on BET. It was privilege and an honor for me to be on a show like that.”
It was on of Damian Marley’s biggest fans, 13-year-old Lucayo Casillas, who addressed the white elephant in the room. What is your reaction to all of the violence in Jamaica , particularly over the hunt for gang lord and the drug lord Christopher “Dudus"Coke.
“When you put titles like gang lord and drug lord, you start to paint an image of a person,” said Damian. “Most people don’t really know this person. I’m saddened at what’s going on in Jamaica right now; it weighs heavy on my mind personally. I’m sad that there is all of that violence, and quite a few people have died over the last 48 hours. It’s a very unfortunate situation.”
            It should be noted that I did approach Nas, who agreed to say a few words for Streetwise for this blog but his flack intercepted and squashed the interview, so maybe next time.

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