This is the eleventh in a series of irrelevant articles from Reggae on the River, 2016, brought to you by Blogs R Us. Today’s post, unabridged and graphic in nature, is an unfortunate example of the questionable taste the author seems to embrace.
A Slice of My Soul
Backstage is a privilege I do not take lightly. Because I have this perk, I am able to view all of the artists from backstage, that is, the platform that runs along the righthand side as you are facing the main stage. There are thousands of festival-goers who do not have this access, so I recognize that I have it good.
For me ROTR is about the music. You may ask, “Is that not the case for everyone?” The answer would emphatically be no. I know that because there are volunteers here, in camp, who have no particular affinity for reggae music.
They are here for the party.
Others are here for social reasons, it being one of the most iconic venues you can attend in NorCal. One of the dudes cleaning the bank of ten port-a-potties, cleverly concealed behind the Ambassador Lounge (I, of course, know the location of every port-in-a-storm at French’s Camp.) commented that there were twelve thousand of us here on-site.
In studying the lineup in advance, I had determined that one artist I could not afford to miss, was Fatoumata Diawara, who came on early Saturday evening, playing in front of a half-filled bowl. Having enjoyed somewhere in the neighborhood of sixteen hours watching music overall, this artist blew the doors off.
“Born in Cote d’Ivoire, raised in Mali, and now based in Paris, Diawara’s life covers a whole gamut of contemporary African experiences: fighting parental opposition to her artistic ambitions and the cultural prejudice faced by women throughout Africa, earning success as an actress in African and French film and theater, touring the world as both a dancer and a singer, and finally dedicating herself to music.” *
This artist was electrifying; there is no other way to describe her. I had already checked out her bio, I was expecting a grand show but I was not expecting her to steal the whole thing away.
New Kingston took me by surprise, Protoje met my expectations, but Fatuomata transported me to a venue far away, and when I returned, I left a little part of my soul behind. She is that talented.
She is an actress, a dancer, a singer and an entertainer, but most of all, she is a powerful woman. The blockades she has had to run, to get to where she is today, are many and complex. In a world in which women defer to men, and parents have rigid control over their children, Fatoumata asserted herself and established her credentials.
Just when I thought she could not elevate her game any higher, she ripped off a guitar solo, that would rival The Edge. I was forty feet from her when she was center stage, but I was ten feet from her when she danced down to my vaunted location.
I had to labor in the trenches for a total of five days in order take up residence in the rafters, metaphorically speaking, and it was worth every minute. In fact I still have at least one more day of volunteer work to go, breaking down the two kitchens. I did it last year and I will do it again next year, so as to be able gain the perks.
After the show I watched as Fatoumata danced down the ramp and out onto the grass behind the main stage. I have access to this area, so I drifted down the ramp (illegally, it turned out later) and ended up a dozen feet away.
I was trying to get the lay of this stage land. A woman who had been standing next to me the better part of the show, was having her photo taken beside Fatoumata. When the pic was recorded, they embraced. I wondered if they were friends.
It took several of these brief encounters to make me realize that Fatoumata was simply interacting with her fans. It did not seem possible to me that one could watch her perform and not be a fan, but what do I know?
Then I realized, I was a fan too. If I could work up my courage, I too could talk to her. What does one say to a vibrant entertainer like this? “Gosh, I just LOVE your music. You are so AWESOME!”
Bet she’s never heard that before. As a performer, her stage presence encompassed everyone. We, over on the side stage, got our share of her attention. I was right at the rail, with no one between us, and I was taking pics in the beginning, and bouncing on my toes to the music afterwards.
She could conceivably have gone the whole show without seeing the old hippie in the yellow Humboldt tank top, with the goofy foo. Maybe. I guess. Who knows?
But when all the other fans had departed, and I had built up my courage to approach her, having determined that security would not tackle me in the process, I would like to think that there was a shadow of recognition in her smiling visage.
Stepping up to her, but not close enough to invade her personal space, I said, “You are a powerful woman. The World needs powerful women.”
She broke out into a radiant smile and framed that smile with the palms of her hands and it was the perfect response.
I had no qualms leaving that slice of my soul behind; I think it’s in good hands.
Tomorrow: Camp culture
* I quoted this from the thirty-two-page newspaper that the Mattel Center published for the event, August4-7.