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Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2018

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2018

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival 2018

By on - Photos by Lee Abel - Comment

Celebrating 25 years of Reggae and World Music in Northern California.

In what has become a sea of reggae festivals in California, with more to come (Reggae On Route 66), Sierra Nevada World Music Festival (SNWMF), celebrating its 25th year this year, stands out with breadth of talent, lack of commercialism, idyllic nature setting and very intimate vibe. 

Whereas most of the other festivals compliment the reggae lineup with hip hop and alternative music, SNWMF highlights veteran, classic Roots Reggae artists and also features both highly acclaimed and little know World Music artists. Noticed and appreciated, it’s nice not to feel marketed to with sponsor banners in my face all weekend. It may mean less income for the festival but it is noteworthy and this special festival has an intimacy unto its own. Considering the stellar quality of the lineup, surprisingly it was always pretty easy to get right up close to each of the 2 stages. This level of intimacy is unheard of at the other big California festivals. Located on the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Boonville, California, you couldn’t wish for a more beautiful setting in nature. Only a few hundred yards away from the festival you can take a hike among wine vineyards and rolling hills and then pop into a farm where goats are raised and sample the cheese that is made on premises.

Here are some highlights from SNWMF25:

Jah9 (Janine Cunningham), a certified Yoga instructor and a respected Jamaican Poet, truly commands the stage in a mystical yet militant fashion. Starting off with her 2016 hit Humble Miit was evident from the beginning of her set that she and her band, led by bassist Jah David, were locked and loaded. A fun Peter Tosh Legalize It riff produced a genuine spontaneous laugh. Clearly Jah9 was loving it!

A bit emotional, Protoje spoke about his first time at SNWMF years ago and how much that meant to him and how pumped he is to be “back among family.”

Flanked by 2 backup singer / dancers, Protoje has really tightened up his stage presence and has upped the energy with choreography and a very upbeat set, generally going right from one song into another. He did take time to observe: “America is going thru lots of problems” and then as if to say here is my response, broke right into Who Knows including lyrics we can all learn from: “Go tell the regime dem can’t stop what we do now, information you think on your own… I just go where the trade winds blows, sending love to my friends and foes.

Simply put, many of the living legends of Reggae just put on a clinic! To witness Half Pint, Romain Virgo, The Mighty Diamonds, Cocoa Tea and Beres Hammond perform one after another is an experience! Gracing the SNWMF stage for the very first time, Half Pint performed in fine style many of his anthems such as Greetings, Winsome, Mr. Landlord, and Victory that helped to define the early days of Reggae music. The Mighty Diamonds, formed in Trenchtown in the late 1960’s are one of Jamaica’s premier vocal trios. In addition to many of their classics, they did a nice rendition of Bob’s Get Up Stand Up and even a Gregory Isaacs tune. Next up, Cocoa Tea who started with a Bob Marley medley and then a new song Biological Warfare followed up with his 1994 classic Good Life. The Sierra Nevada massive went nuts as Cocoa did Wait in Vain in his own style including an improvisational rap. And then of course, the headliner of the weekend Beres Hammond who performed hit after hit of his classic songs, including our favorites Rockaway, and Feel Good.

What a commitment to Global music to get this 9 piece South Korean Ska band to SNWMF! Kingston Rudieska blends ska, reggae, dub and jazz thru a Korean lens to great effect. These youngsters are highly acclaimed in their country and word was buzzing around the festival grounds about how special they were. The lead singer read in English from his cell phone about how honored they were to be on stage where so many important artists have played before and how they “Will never forget this!!... Give me some love!” which happened to be the name of the next song. The reggae massive felt as if they were on a journey together with this unique and passionate band.

Nattali Rize
does as good a job as anyone in music, not only Reggae music, of seamlessly combining the message with the music. The message is serious, conscious and global but her music and stage performance carry it. When an artist’s directive and lyrics are so central and up front, they can become too preachy, but in the case of Nattali Rize she comes right up to that line but doesn’t cross it. She had the crowd mesmerized and repeating for her as the band went silent during One People: “Iration, All Nations, One People, One Destiny.” Then after an awesome onstage collaboration with Kelissa on Evolutionary off her newest Rebel Frequency release from last year, Nattali summed it up: “These festivals are like a snapshot of what life should be like everyday.

Nattali Rize is a force: stage presence, vocal range, gifted songwriter, instrumental talent on the bongos and guitar. Look out for more as she RIZES.

After lead singer Joseph Hill passed in 2006, his son Kenyatta, stepped in for him, keeping the Culture legacy alive. Playing on Sunday at the smaller Village stage, Kenyatta, with a hauntingly similar voice to his late father, took us on a Cultural journey of favorite tracks: Two Sevens Clash, See Them a Come, Calling Rasta Far I. During The International Herb Kenyatta held up for the majority of the song, a little Marley Naturals package of ganja.

Bodyguard with an extended dub intro, Chant a Psalm, Ku Klux KlanSteppin’ Out, Need I say more? Impeccable timing and band comradery were a perfect way to close out the Valley stage at SNWMF25.

Other highlights of this magical festival included:

Tarrus Riley always brings massive energy and positivity, and Dean Frazer’s horns are the best in the business.

SNWMF has a history of bringing new unknown talent to the states. This year was no exception as relative newcomers Randy Valentine and Spiritual (channeling Burning Spear) truly impressed the reggae massive.

Dread Mar-I sells out stadiums in Argentina so what a treat to see this sensual, soulful songwriter and vocalist here in such an intimate setting. Same for Teddy Afro who is the biggest pop star in Ethiopia.

All these artists are emblematic of the amazing global talent founder Warren Smith is committed to bringing year after year to SNWMF. And for the 25th anniversary of this seminal festival Warren and his team truly brought their A game, as many veteran festival goers who come year after year agreed that this was one of the best. Here’s to another 25 years!


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