Ten venues and a 10-block area made up the site for the 24th annual Lotus World Music and Arts Festival.
Lotus brings 26 different artists and ensembles and 140 individual musicians from 20 countries across the world to Bloomington this weekend. The festival runs until Oct. 1.
“The mission of the organization is to create opportunities to celebrate and explore the diversity of the world’s culture through music and the arts,” said Sunni Fass, executive director of Lotus Education and Arts Foundation.
Friday night’s performances began with Scottish folk singer-songwriter Rachel Sermanni at the First Presbyterian Church. Sermanni provided an atmosphere of positive spirits and companionship as she performed on acoustic guitar and sang.
Sermanni said she wrote a song for a friend named Jan, and she asked the audience if they would all imagine their own Jan during the following song. She proceeded to sing of natural imagery and distant travels.
“I hope your father knows, I’d be proud if I conceived one of those,” Sermanni sang.
Lotus attracts close to 12,000 people every year. It started as a festival of local bands in 1994, and in the years since has expanded to include artists from more than 120 different countries, such as Ethiopia, Iran and Cuba.
“What Lotus brings to the table is a very international and very concentrated global experience,” Joshua Perry, Lotus board member and treasurer, said. “It’s a real celebration of the global community.”
While Sermanni was relaxed and soothing, French group Lo’Jo played an energetic hybrid of gypsy-folk-African music at the Pictura Gallery Old National Bank Tent.
The group was formed in Angers, France, in 1982. The band returns once again after an appearance at Lotus in 2000. It got people dancing and jumping to its violin and keyboard solos.
Lotus Festival’s accessibility and family-friendliness is the reason why people decide to live in Bloomington, Fass said.
“One of the most special things about the Lotus vibe is how multi-generational it is,” Fass said. “Folks that are bringing their preteen kids and those kids are right up there by the stage with their 80-plus-year-old grandparents.”
In a more formal setting at the First United Methodist Church, duo Sahba Motallebi and Naghmeh Farahmand performed Iranian and Persian styles of music.
“We just did a few minutes of improvisation,” Motallebi said after finishing a piece. “Persian music is based on improvisation. We play whatever we feel flowing through our life into yours.”
Motallebi explained her instrument, the par, and the different parts that comprised it. She talked about her time as a child, often hidden in her basement during the conflict between Iraq and Iran.
“I composed this piece to express peace and exchange peace in a stressful moment,” Motallebi said.
Artists such as Motallebi and Farahmand followed a traditional Iranian string and percussion ensemble, while other artists, such as Meklit, fuzed styles such as Ethiopian and jazz at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
Between saxophone solos, energetic dancing and drumming on the stage floor, Meklit brought an excited, entertaining atmosphere to the theater.
“This song was inspired by lentils,” Meklit said in between songs. “The pan was swinging back and forth with the most wonderful, lilting swing, and I thought, ‘That right there has to become a song.’"
Overall, Lotus provides a broad view of the world, Fass said.
“We have a really strong mix of traditional music and modern, contemporary music,” Fass said. “We have folks playing traditions that are thousands and thousands of years old, and we have folks that are playing alternative latin rock.”
Overall, Lotus is a unique and rare opportunity to celebrate different histories, backgrounds and perspectives, Perry said.
“Everybody can come together for a weekend and really better understand that despite all these differences, we really have so much in common,” Perry said. “That's the beauty of Lotus.”
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