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Lotus World Music & Arts Festival kicks off 25th year



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Mamadou Kelly sings one of his native Mali songs Sept. 27 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater during the Lotus Music and Art Festival kick-off concert. Lotus will continue through Sunday. David Brinson Buy Photos

The 2018 Lotus World Music and Arts Festival officially began at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater on Thursday night with live performances from the band Uncle Earl and Malian musician Mamadou Kelly.

“Lotus brings people together,” Lotus Executive Director Sunni Fass said. 

The concert kicks off a weekend filled with performances by musicians from all over the world, international cuisine and many interactive exhibits, all sprinkled around downtown Bloomington. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the festival.

Fass started with the organization back in 2001 when she was still a student at IU. She majored in ethnomusicology and found Lotus to be a perfect fit.

“It’s an amazing organization,” Fass said. "I’ve worked with lots of arts organization and this one is special.”

Fass said the annual festival, along with its community presence during the rest of the year, has only grown bigger and bigger since she started as an undergrad. As executive director, it is her duty to “make sure all the pieces work together.”

“This is an opportunity for everyone, people from all over the world, that otherwise would never meet, to actually meet and talk with one another,” Fass said. “It lets us get beyond just the soundbites.”



Kelly opened with his hybrid African sound. The string-focused, all-woman group, Uncle Earl followed.

Molly Bendalin, a sophomore psychology major, attended the concert for extra credit in a class.

“I’m excited to immerse myself in the music and the different kinds of culture,” Bendalin said. When asked whether she’d be attending more of the events that weekend, just for pleasure, she paused.

“We’ll see how the concert tonight goes,” she said with a laugh. 

Women of all hair colors, from bright red to white, danced to the music in the front row. Bloomington residents and visitors were introduced to a new world of music. Some had already fallen in love with it.

Jim Brown, a resident of St. Louis, made his ninth journey to the festival. As he waited in line to get into the concert, he said African music is by far his favorite genre, though he appreciates the diversity of the festival.

“African music, hearing it on a CD is one thing. It’s a whole other to hear it performed live,” Brown said. “The lineup of exceptional talent from all over the world. I’d say that’s what keeps me coming back.”

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