by Sista Irie, photojournalist, Austin, Texas
The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (SNWMF) is a family oriented reggae and world music celebration famous for captivating the devotion of dedicated reggae lovers across the globe. Celebrating the Summer Solstice combined with 22 years of acclaimed success, the festival has played a crucial role in keeping reggae music relevant in a world of ever-changing musical tastes and technological roadblocks. Reggae artists continually face difficult challenges including rising costs, complexities traveling into the United States and shrinking resources such as a lack of experienced managers, publicists and bookers. Even so, reggae music has steadfastly made it through a very difficult decade of negative industry trends. The industry has remained faithful to its own survival. As further testament, reggae music has swelled once again with a burst of renewed energy, revived and fueled by a collective group of young, professionally trained Jamaican singers and players. Adding fuel to the fyah, American and European reggae artists, influenced by Jamaican mentors, simultaneously delivered a blend of conscious dancehall and roots reggae music captivating national and international audiences. This amalgamation of cross cultural artistry has led to an increased sense of respect and dignity further deepening the true intent and mantra of reggae, One Love.
While artist touring becomes increasingly difficult, festivals like the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival are vital in educating, inspiring and keeping the musical force intact. California has clearly demonstrated the strength of festival connectivity while also ensuring supporting gigs in local venues to reduce financial challenges. With hundreds of national and international reggae festivals scheduled throughout the spring and summer, the well-educated reggae aficionado is consistently given accessibility to new and tenured icons of the industry while the upcoming generation is exposed to socially responsible messages. The reggae fever comes on strong in California like white on rice.
History confirms the heartbeat of reggae and the deeply sensual riddims of world music are intoxicating enough to attract multitudes of dedicated fans to travel down shallow winding valleys to the quaint little town of Boonville, California. As soon as one passes through the colorful gates of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, they enter into a relaxed family atmosphere, a bubbling reunion of old friends, a gumbo of culturally diverse food. They quickly transcend into a heavenly state of ‘good vibez’ euphoria. As a photojournalist, I rejoice in the sweet spirit of collaboration, linking with other photo colleagues knowing that competitiveness are left at the front door. Even after working long, hard hours standing on our feet, with little relaxation and lack of food, media folks are just as addicted to the mix of music as those who come to party and relax, a true testament to the glory of the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival.
In the spirit of conscious responsibility, it is also important to understand the SNWMF supports more than three days of entertainment. Other non-profit organizations are given a helping hand blessed by festival funds. Homes for the elderly, local schools, Senior Centers, Veterans Halls, Ukiah Food Bank and local radio receive money from the festival that further enhances their community efficacy. The Pomo Indian tribe, native to Mendocino County sets the stage as they open the festival with blessings for Mother Earth. Children’s activities are well designed to support and encourage family adventure and daily fun. Hula hoops, face painting, and drumming are included in the daily activities. The SNWMF youth play joyfully, in the company of their families, while listening to some of the most positive musical messages on earth. What a beautiful and inspirational setting to encourage a positive and well guided upcoming generation!
Admittedly, it was impossible to see and hear all the amazing artists who graced the Valley and Village stages. Of those I saw, performances by NoMaddz, Pentateuch, Admiral Tibet, Jesse Royal, Max Romeo and Third World stood out from a musical and photographic stand point. Steel Pulse was a major crowd pleaser, even though David Hinds could not sing due to a medical condition. Big Youth, a favorite artist to photograph, entertained a cheering crowd with his usual unique talent accompanied by the legendary Soul Syndicate band. Two second generation performers included ‘Tafari’, the son of Big Youth and Kareema Foster, daughter of King Yellowman. Luciano brought a welcomed churchical vibe into the late afternoon tossing his dreads in the air and somersaulting across the stage. Thievery Corporation was one of the most unusual performances of the weekend. Their multifaceted line-up of artists, laced with creativity, poise and talent, included a sensual, elegant belly dancer. Nattali Rise, who hails from Australia and a former member of the Blue King Brown Band immersed into a heavy roots accompanied by Jamaican band, Notis. Common Kings, whose cultural origins are from the South Pacific, rounded out my reggae education with a talented mix of reggae and hip hop. There were many other extremely talented artists, Joseph Israel, Taj Weekes, Meta and the Cornerstones, The Itals, Keith and Tex and B.B. Seaton whose talent and professional contributions should not be overlooked. Each one of these amazing artists contributed to a deeply enhanced roots vibe making Sierra Nevada World Music Festival one of the best festivals of the year. My only regret was not being able to see all the bands and performers. It’s a great problem to have. After a long day of photographing, I could not stay and persevere into the early morning hours to experience the incredible sound system dances. For me, it was time to trod back through the winding valleys for a few quick winks of sleep in readiness for the next day’s treasure trove of world class performances.
My deepest appreciation and respect goes out to Warren and Gretchen Smith, the whole SNWMF staff and volunteer crew who dedicate their positive attitudes and time-consuming energy in the very hot sun to ensure nothing but the best for those who make the trod to the Mendocino Fair Grounds. Sierra Nevada World Music, a photographic and musical experience not to be missed.