lotus world music festival

Indigo. . It’s that deep shade which lies between blue and violet in a rainbow. It is a shade which shows up in the arts and textiles of cultures and countries as diverse as China, Italy, Japan, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Sumatra, Peru, Germany, Iran, Guatemala, Canada , the United States, and other parts of the world. It is a color which has engaged people across time, as well, from ancient days through the Renaissance to the Victorian era up to the present. That thread of connection, the many ways indigo is appreciated and shared and used to create, from intricate paisley deigns to reworked denim jeans, is the theme of the exhibit World Blues: Shades of Indigo which is taking place at theJohn Waldron Arts Center of Ivy Tech in Bloomington, Indiana.

The exhibit, which has been curated from collections across the heartland of the United States, is part of the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival. It holds elements of the aspects which bring vibrant world cultures to this midwestern university town each September: artists and creations from countries across the world, vibrant contemporary work and work which draws on tradition, and connections to the Bloomington community and the midwest as well.

The organizers of the Lotus Festival first began weaving these threads together two decades ago, and in that time Lotus has become known as a top notch celebration for artists, visitors, and community residents to enjoy. The natural ingenuity of the musical events have drawn in connections to the visual arts, and the visual artists have inspired the musicians as well. One year, as festival organizers were considering how to integrate visual arts beyond traditional gallery shows, festival director Lee Williams saw a colorful backdrop a performer had brought with him. “Something clicked,” Williams recalls. “Our visual art approach flowed from that backdrop. It became all about taking arts to the street.” The results of that flash of inspiration have included local residents creating backdrops for indoor concerts, outdoor arts workshops during the festival weekend (this year that is 26 through 29 September) through which kids and adults may create their own art and learn about new styles and methods, outdoor arts installations, and banners carried in parades.

Those parades began from a flash of inspiration, too. One night the Gangbe Brass Band from Benin walked out of the venue where they were performing and began playing while waking down the street. Since then processions have become a lively and well anticipated aspect of the Lotus Festival.

On the musical side, across its two decades musicians from almost every country in the world have played the Lotus Festival and come to enjoy the world music welcome Bloomington offers. Each year festival organizers plan a balance among established artists and rising newcomers, festival favorites and artists new to Lotus. The artists love the festival as much as the audiences do. “Lotus has the best of both worlds,” says Canadian banjo player Jayme Stone, “the buzz of an outdoor festival atmosphere and the pristine ambiance of an indoor one, with beautiful venues and great sound.” Väsen’s Olov Johansson, from Sweden, points out that “The Lotus Festival is a great place to hear good music that you didn’t even know existed. It’s also a really friendly festival for meeting other musicians, as well as music lovers in the audience, since performers and audience walk the same streets in between the different venues.”

This year, those performers will include Irish American fiddle player and composer Liz Carroll. whose tunes have become part of the standard repertoire of Irish musicians across the world; the Khan family from India, masters of the tradition instrument called the sarod; Pacific Curls, who bring fusions of music of the Pacific rim with Scottish fiddle playing, De Temps Antan who add Quebecois flair to things, Edward Casteneda , who brings folk harp music from Columbia, and The Once, who celebrate the history and heritage of Newfoundland in their music. There will be musicians from Mongolia, Sweden, Finland, Ethiopia, Ukraine, world music fusion bands from the United States — and that’s just a taste of the visual and music events on tap. You may find out more at the Lotus Festival web site.

photographs courtesy of Lotus World Music and Arts Festival

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