look around Salt Lake City, one would think that our sprawling “big
city” might need a lot of outside help to host a weekend festival
featuring traditional arts, entertainment, crafts and food from more than
40 ethnic communities.
But despite our city’s stigma as a culturally homogenous land of
boredom, ethnic communities are and have been a vibrant part of what defines
Utah. Thanks to the efforts of Casey Jarman, the program director for
the Salt Lake City Arts Council, his staff and countless volunteers, people
from around the valley can learn about Utah’s ethnic makeup through
the annual Living Traditions Festival.
When Jarman started working as program director 18 years ago, he started
the festival “to give a voice, to bring to light that Salt Lake
City does have ethnic communities [and] ethnic diversity,” he said
over the phone.
The process of setting up the festival takes about a year, but the majority
of work takes place from December up until the festival is underway.
Aside from organizing the content of the festival, the Arts Council also
spends a significant amount of time throwing fund raisers to supplement
the funding provided by public agencies, local businesses and corporate
With 18 years of experience under their belt, the festival’s organizers
already have a great deal of the process in place, but according to Jarman,
they continuously develop the program content with different local artists
and look for ways to improve upon the festival.
Aside from the 30 to 40 paid staff members involved in the festival at
every level, the volunteers who contribute to the festival’s environment
number in the hundreds. “Each organization [and] every artist has
a community that gets involved in the festival as well. For example, our
food booths are all non-profit organizations that are selling food, so
within each food booth there are dozens of volunteers.” Jarman said.
“The diverse population is not large, but they are diverse. There
is a strong ethnic population in the city, but they may not be as large
in number as when you go to cities like Chicago, New York or San Francisco.
So it’s important to first of all let people know that Salt Lake
has a very diverse community. The other thing that’s important about
the festival is that it’s presenting those ethnic traditions that
carry on…from generation to generation. So in other words, the communities
that are here are presenting traditions that they carry on and give them
their own cultural identity within their community. We’re not just
presenting a view of the city, we’re [presenting] traditions that
are vital elements of our ethnic communities,” Jarman said regarding
the importance of the festival.
There’s no real way to look at the Living Traditions Festival at
a glance, and there isn’t enough room and aren’t enough readers
with large enough attention spans to cover every detail of the festival,
but there are four key elements to the festival: art, entertainment, demonstrations/workshops
Approximately 25 artisans representing Middle Eastern, European, American
Indian, Latin American, Asian and American Folk artists will demonstrate
aspects of their traditional art and place various wares for sale.
Call it entertainment or call it performing arts, but the festival features
two stages for traditional dance and music presentations. Performances
will start Friday, May 16 at 5:00 p.m. and run until 10:00 p.m. and begin
Saturday and Sunday at noon and run until the evening. Both stages will
have performances simultaneously and a third workshop stage will offer
a more intimate, introspective and perhaps historical look at specific
performing arts of various ethnicities.
I had the privilege of speaking with Friday’s headlining artist,
Mariza, over the phone. At age 29, she has received critical acclaim for
her contribution to the Portuguese musical art form known as Fado. She
is currently hot off the release of her second album, Fado Curvo, and
will stop in Salt Lake City as part of her fourth U.S. tour.
The RED Interview
It was almost inevitable that Mariza grew up to become a Fado singer and
a rising star at that. She grew up in Lisbon, the birthplace of Fado,
and her neighborhood, Moderia, is historically significant in the birth
and development of the unique Portuguese art form.
“Fado for me is more than music, it’s a feeling,” Mariza
said, adding that Fado is an art form that is more than 200 years old
and has distinct African roots that came to be because of sailors.
Mariza described the Fado Houses in Lisbon as places with a very dark
ambiance with lots of smoke, lots of red wine, chorizo, an acoustic guitar
and Portuguese guitar playing with a woman singing. According to Mariza,
it’s very rare to find Fado houses outside of Lisbon.
Her traveling band replicates the bands found in the Fado Houses and consists
of bass, acoustic guitar and a Portuguese guitar to accompany her voice.
Fado is a traditionally emotional music tackling dark subjects like death,
jealousy, lost love, grief and the hard lives of sailors. The happy songs
involve wine, parties and the city of Lisbon.
Mariza’s lyrics are poems from famous Portuguese poets. While she
does write poetry, she doesn’t use it in any performance settings.
The creative process all starts with the poetry.
don’t write,” she insisted, “I try to understand first
the poems, because the words have big meaning to me, so I try to understand
the words first. I try to feel connected,” the next step involves
the musical composition on behalf of the band.
“I don’t feel I break too much with the traditions because
I’m trying to respect the traditions of Fado because I grew up in
the middle of that, so for me it’s difficult to break them because
I know exactly what they are. It’s not my music that is breaking
the traditions, my style, my way of being is not traditional of people
who perform Fado,” she said.
As an up-and-coming international artist, Mariza has received international
acclaim and is pleased at the attention she gets from audiences in the
United States. The only downside to her success is being away from family
and friends, she said. This year alone, she’s been touring since
Mariza will conduct a workshop on Fado from 6:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. prior
to her 8:00 p.m. performance time.
United States Got the Blues
Perhaps it’s the downtrodden economy, but the United States Congress
declared 2003 the year of the blues—no joke. Can you believe these
people make important decisions? So after practically 100 years of being
a vital part of U.S. history, the mother of rock and roll and the majority
of modern American music, the blues finally gets a measly year of recognition.
To commemorate the year of the blues, the festival will feature Legends
of the Chicago Blues as Saturday’s headlining act. The performance
will feature Chicago blues artists Willie “Big Eyes” Smith,
who plays drums and recently released Bag Full of Blues with fellow headlining
artist Pinetop Perkins, a pianist with a career that spans close to 80
years. Smith developed the shuffle style of drumming during his tenure
with Muddy Waters’s band.
Hubert Sumlin played in Howlin’ Wolf’s band until the Wolf
passed and is considered a pioneer on the electric guitar by many guitarists,
Bob Dylan and Carlos Santana included. Finally, Bob Margolin grew up listening
to blues recordings and managed to tour the world as part of Muddy Waters’s
band for seven years. He is still recording and incorporates gospel and
funk into his blues style. These legends will also present a workshop
at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday before they take the stage at 8:00.
The Living Traditions festival is just the beginning of the free events
accessible to the public this summer—soon the Arts Council will
release the roster for the Twilight Concert Series, which features nationally
touring acts, and the Brown Bag Concert Series, which emphasizes local
The Living Traditions Folk and Ethnic Arts Festival takes place May 16,
17 and 18 in Salt Lake City’s Washington Square, 450 S. 200 East,
just west of the downtown library. For more information, pick up a free
festival guide by calling 596-5000 or visiting www.slcgov.com.