Berkeley World Music Festival is crossroads of musical, social diversity

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Daniel Kim/Senior Staff

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On Saturday and Sunday, the 14th Annual Berkeley World Music Festival took place across various locations throughout the city, including People’s Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park, Moe’s Books, Mad Monks Center for Anachronistic Media, Tap Haus and The Musical Offering — attracting hundreds of locals and students to free live music events.

The East Bay community’s “vibrancy and hope,” as festival producer and artistic director Gianna Ranuzzi described it, was the foundation on which the Berkeley World Music Festival was built. Now in its 14th year, the festival featured an eclectic slate of music — this year’s lineup included Ivory Coast tribal pop, Cuban salsa, Latino Afro-pop, bluegrass, Middle Eastern music and dance, classical Guzheng and Tibetan folk music.

Ranuzzi has been at the center of the festival’s growth and development for more than a decade, and emphasized that the goal with its creation was to not only highlight the diversity of the Berkeley community, but to celebrate it.

“We looked at over 200 ethnic restaurants owned by the different populations and we thought ‘Gee, look who we are! We’re Hispanic, we’re African American, we’re European, let’s do world music,’ ” she explained.

The festival’s two main events — public concerts at Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Saturday, and at People’s Park on Sunday — brought together hundreds of visitors, including UC Berkeley students, local vendors and musicians. “I know that this festival has good bones because we’ve tried to represent everyone,” explained Ranuzzi

Saturday’s concerts at the MLK Jr. Civic Center presented an impressive assemblage of musical styles, ranging from Zydeco Flames’ Creole-infused rhythm and blues to the music of Fito Reinoso y su Ritmo y Armonia, a Cuban artist who at one point blended salsa and jazz elements together with the theme from “Mission Impossible” — incredible. Fely Tchaco, a musician from the Ivory Coast, moved effortlessly from a somber, thoughtful tone with a French ballad lamenting “war, starvation, forest devastation and orphans around the world” to a collection of upbeat calypso grooves, which transformed the crowd of casual observers to one of passionate salsa dancers.

One such dancer was Dominique Gilak, who has been a frequent attendee of the annual event.

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“I just I like to dance, I like to move. I’m amazed that, over the years, if you look at movies — from the ‘50s and ‘40s — people moved a lot, and now and they just sit stiff,” Gilak said. “Modern life has made people more inhibited, but it seems like they’re less and less in touch with their bodies, and I think that’s really sad.”

The multitude of carefree dancers around People’s Park and the MLK Jr. Civic Center spoke to the ability of world music to break down the barriers of inhibitions, and transcend the confinements of genre. According to Ranuzzi, these deconstructions are how people should engage with the festival: “I want people to be joyous and remember that music is people’s elevation — it comes from the heart.”

Imad Pasha is the arts & entertainment editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Tweet him at @prappleizer.
Shannon O’Hara is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].

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  • Usb Cable

    This looks like a diverse and vibrant celebration of the strength that diversity brings us, lol.

  • Left Unsaid

    Social diversity? No, no conservative light skinned folks will be performing.