Worldfest a feast for the senses

California Worldfest

Members of the Obo Addy percussion group liven up the intimate Pine Tree Stage.

Members of the Obo Addy percussion group liven up the intimate Pine Tree Stage.

Photo By Stephanie Bird

Entering the Worldfest site and browsing the colorful array of crafts and food booths, we first visited the small Pine Tree Stage, where Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate and his three-piece ensemble were inspiring ecstatic dance despite the 90-something temperature. A short walk to the Sierra Stage took us to where guitar virtuoso Tommy Emmanuel was demonstrating just how fast six strings can be picked, strummed and plucked. Fast enough to create the illusion that two or three excellent guitarists are performing intricately interwoven, perfectly harmonized parts, it turns out.

We then caught some brilliant Highlife percussion music from the group led by Obo Addy, Ghana’s master drummer. Their gorgeous costumes and rhythms kept us swaying till the end of their set, but by then we needed some cooling off, which we found at the indoor, air-conditioned Welcome Stage, where the Ancient Future band was proving that East and West can meet harmoniously and sometimes humorously. The band’s sitarist, Habib Khan, is booked as the “Jimi Hendrix of the sitar,” but based on his exaggerated mannerisms I’d say he’s closer to the Roy Clark of the sitar—a bit of a ham but a master musician.

A quick camp dinner later we were back at our preselected turf facing the main stage watching my favorite of the day’s performances, a trancendental set by the Mamadou Diabate Ensemble. Diabate’s instrument, the kora, has a round gourd about two feet in diameter with a neck and 21 strings that are plucked like a harp to create shimmering melodies complemented by the interwoven notes of a wooden xylophone and the polyrhythms of a drummer, all used to create a setting for gorgeous ensemble singing. I could have listened to Diabate’s music all night and been happy.

But watching Tommy Emmanuel unleash a beautiful storm of electronic sounds and huge percussion using only his guitar and the main stage’s fantastic sound system was a pretty good follow-up. As were the evening sets by the Waifs, Juan L. Sanchez, and Obo Addy.

By the time the Robert Cray Band took the stage to deliver his brand of funked-up, urban blues the kids I was sitting were getting antsy, so we strolled back to camp casting Incredible Hulk shadows on the giant trees and let the blues follow on the breeze.

We packed a lot into our day, and I hope next year I’ll be able to go for a longer and more complete sampling of the feast that’s the fest.