Dom Flemons (Hillsboro, NC) Sunday at the NC Traditions Stage on at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.
African-American singer-songwriter Dom Flemons has become an integral talent in the North Carolina folk scene. As a founding member of Grammy-winning folk group Carolina Chocolate Drops and now as a solo artist, Flemons blends traditional melodies and lyrics with an innovative twist to his songs. Moving between ragtime, gospel, blues and Appalachian traditional Flemons’ music has reanimated a lost tradition of Southern music, bringing it to stages across the country.
“It’s the music I love,” Flemons told Triad City Beat in spring of 2017. “I’ve studied it almost all my life, and I think the history of where it all came from is as important as the music itself.”
Incorporating a wide array of instruments — from guitar, banjo and fiddle to spoons, harmonica and fife — Flemons focuses on the importance of African-American musicians in traditional music, undertaking numerous projects and sharing the stage with such acts as Jonny Grave, Paperhaus, the Hackensaw Boys and Letitia Van Sant.
— Spencer KM Brown
Innov Gnawa (Brooklyn, NY) performs all three days of the festival: Friday at the Dance Pavilion at 9 p.m., Saturday at LeBauer Park at 12:15 p.m., News & Record Backstage Beat at 7:15 p.m., Lawn Stage at 9 p.m., and Sunday on Wrangler Stage at 1 a.m. and Lawn Stage at 3:45 p.m.
Led by Maâlem Hassan Ben Jaafer, the Brooklyn-based sextet Innov Gnawa carries the ancient tradition of Moroccan gnawa music to the stage. Founded in 2013, the group features a distinctive, throaty singing style, with hypnotic, ancient melodies played on the guembri, a three-stringed, long-necked lute. With acclaimed musician Jaafer as the band’s leader and frontman, the five backing vocalists complete the sound with thick-layered vocals, accompanied by a backing rhythm of distinctive iron castanets known as qraqeb, drums and traditional stringed instruments.
Gnawa is a rich Moroccan collection of ancient African and Islamic religious songs and rhythms. The centuries-old heritage combines ritualistic poetry with traditional music and dancing. Innov’s music features the enchanting use of repetitive melodies and verses, blended with an inspiring and provocative performance featuring its members often clad in the centuries-old style of clothing, traditional of Morocco. The rhythms — performed mostly with castanets and hand-clapping — are the lifeblood of gnawa music, with rich layers of strings flowing jagged yet soothing above the beat. Hailed by critics, Innov Gnawa are an act not to be missed.
— Spencer KM Brown
Sun Ra Arkestra (Philadelphia, Pa.) plays on Saturday at the Lawn Stage at 1:50 p.m. and at the Dance Pavilion at 6:45 p.m. The ensemble performs its final Folk Festival show at Citystage on Sunday at 3:20 p.m.
According to many scholars, cultural critics and other-worldly figures, Afrofuturism began with Sun Ra. As an intersection of black culture, imagination and freedom, Afrofuturism encompasses the aesthetics of sci-fi writer Octavia Butler, the psychedelic music of Jimi Hendrix, the alien avatars of OutKast, and the alternative works of many other artists. But years before these contributions, Sun Ra first took flight.
Born Herman “Sonny” Blount in Alabama, the jazz artist changed his name to Sun Ra — an homage to the Egyptian sun god — after joining the Chicago jazz scene in the 1940s. The following decade, the Sun Ra Arkestra formed. Over the years, its many members have let soar Sun Ra’s avant-garde incorporations of fusion, swing, bebop and free jazz, while the ensemble’s elaborate garb has always coupled ancient-Egyptian robes with Space-Age ornamentation.
After Ra’s death in 1993, the Arkestra’s leadership transferred to Marshall Allen, one of the group’s original members. Allen, now 93, leads the Arkestra today, bringing Ra’s cosmic style to new ears and new worlds.
In October, the Arkestra takes the stage with Solange in Washington, DC — part of what the music star has dubbed “the lineup of my actual dreams.” In some far off place, many light years in space — where human feet have never trod, where human eyes have never seen — Sun Ra waits in a world of his own abstract dreams.
— Joel Sronce
Los Texmaniacs (San Antonio, Texas) play on Friday at the Wrangler Stage at 8:45 p.m. as well as on Saturday at the News & Record’s Backstage Beat at 1:15 p.m. and at the Dance Pavilion at 2:45 p.m. The band ends the festival with three shows on Sunday, playing at the Dance Pavilion at noon, the Lawn Stage at 2:30 p.m. and the Citystage at 4:30 p.m.
Conjunto Tejano embodies the border — the struggle, the culture and the blooming of creation along the trumped-up line where the United States and Mexico meet. It’s as old as its migrants and colonies. It’s Tex Mex without the exploitation, the commodification, the tortilla shells made of fried chicken.
For Los Texmaniacs, the mix of classic conjunto with rock and R&B doesn’t cheapen any culture or genre; rather its fusion reaches out to wider audiences while maintaining, and celebrating, the existing traditions.
When Eastern-European immigrants began to migrate into the lands that now make up southern Texas, their button accordions — as well as polka and other genres of music — met the already vibrant Mexican musical traditions. From this immersion, conjunto emerged.
Born in Albuquerque, NM, Los Texmaniacs founder Max Baca started learning the accordion at age 5. His ascension in the world of conjunto music led Baca to one of his idols, accordion legend Flaco Jiménez, who asked Baca to join him on the bajo sexto, a 12-string Mexican guitar.
Baca continues to play bajo sexto in Los Texmaniacs, alongside fellow members who wield the accordion, electric bass and drums.
In 2010, the group’s album Borders y Bailes won a Grammy Award for best Tejano album.
This year, the band celebrates its 20th anniversary.
— Joel Sronce