World Music Festival

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(Ryde, CA)
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival has been around for 11 years. Warren Smith - the man behind the annual summer event – says it’s a musical celebration of multiculturalism.

"It seemed like a great opportunity to put on stage people that are singing their songs of freedom, their songs of struggle from all over the world."

The outdoor festival brings reggae superstars like Burning Spear, Israel Vibration and Marcia Griffiths together with artists from around the world. Smith says one act he’s personally looking forward to seeing is the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra from Japan.

"15-musicians with a large horn-section that seem to have two faces. They, on one hand could be the Lawrence Welks of Japan playing traditional ska with big horn lines and soft, melodic tempos. And then they have another side to them which I think you could only call a thrashing band and they kick hard and apparently these guys are doing back flips and everything else on stage." 

Smith says another highlight is El Gran Silencio, a band from Monterey, Mexico.

"They’re a fantastic group, you just can’t stand still when El Gran Silencio’s on stage so we’re really forward to that and we’ve been making a very strong effort to present more Latin music."

But the festival is dominated with Jamaican reggae acts, including some early pioneers like Alton Ellis who started out in the early ‘60s.

"Alton is probably the godfather of rocksteady music. Just a tremendous figure in Jamaican history, his voice just soars."

The festival brings thousands of people to Angels Camp each June and Smith says it takes him about a year to organize it.

"We’re going to at least double maybe triple the size of the local town. We have to provide everything to the people that come up whether it be medical services or fire services. Between the toilets and the garbage and the food along with operating all the stages, there’s just so many things going on, and it’s a lot of fun to help put it together but to make sure it operates has really been an art."

Smith says the audience can’t be stereotyped.

"We have every kind of culture imaginable. We expect to see some Basque people for Fermin, we expect to see some Japanese people for Tokyo Ska, we know the German people will show up for Gentleman, of course we always get a lot of West Indians for our reggae and we expect to be getting a much larger segment of Latino people. We have all different kinds of people watching all different kinds of music."

Smith says even though putting the festival together is a lot of hard work, it’s also rewarding. He sees it as something more than just a pop music show.

"Bringing in all these different groups and having people interact and see the groups, there’s an effect that goes down, it counters what’s taking place in our current foreign policy where we can trust and understand other cultures, we don’t need to fear and fight them. And hopefully what we do with the SNWMF, we can kind of come up with an antidote."

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival organizer Warren Smith. The festival runs from Friday to Sunday at Angels Camp.