Music festivals that seemed like a distant memory months ago have finally become a reality for the Boston University community. Last Saturday, the all-day BU Global Music Festival made its return to welcome the resurgence of more normal outdoor social events.
The festival, free to BU and the public and produced by the BU Arts Initiative, transformed Marsh Plaza and the BU Beach to celebrate a global experience last Saturday.
Ty Furman, managing director of BU Arts Initiative, said the Arts Initiative made it a priority to honor international culture.
“BU, part of our brand identity is that we are a global institution,” Furman said. “Part of the identity of Boston is that it is a majority-minority city [and] has tremendous immigrant communities … first and second generation.”
This is the “niche” Furman felt the festival could speak to when it began in 2018. He approached ethnomusicology professor Marié Abe, who serves as the artistic director of the festival, to create an affordable, educational festival for students.
The festival was in part inspired by the global music lunchtime concerts that Abe was programming years ago: Furman said the lunchtime concerts gave BU a “good track record” with global music representation, and they wanted to continue on that trend.
Addressing the lack of international music representation in Boston and presenting it in an appealing way for students sparked the genesis of the festival.
“There’s still not a whole lot of global world music programming in the city and some of it that is can be quite expensive,” Furman said. “I felt, for lack of a better term, the universe was saying this is something you all can do and this is going to fill a niche, it’s an interesting thing to bring students together around and the community.”
To achieve their goal this year, the Arts Initiative cast a diverse musical lineup. Some of the headliners included: Combo Chimbita from Colombia and New York, Riyaaz Qawwali from Pakistan and Texas and Eastern Medicine Singers from Algonquin and Rhode Island.
“This year all of the artists are based in the [United States], but they are still coming from cultural communities, rich in heritage and artistry,” Furman said. “We’ve just got an amazing lineup.”
Festival administrators prioritized a selection of minority groups, such as women-identified artists and groups, to feature in this year’s event to counteract the male dominance in the global music industry. For instance, Veronica Robles Mariachi Quartet is an all-female Boston-based group that brought authentic sound and flair from Mexico.
“I’ve never seen an all-female Mariachi group before, and the music was just really upbeat and fun,” said Keeghan Bauer, a College of Communication sophomore who attended the festival. “It’s so important for women to have an opportunity to show their talents, especially in an industry where men are dominant.”
Another group that performed was Boston-based Gund Kwok — an Asian women’s lion and dragon dance troupe that performed off the stage on the BU Beach. The children’s troupe performed in lion costumes, and a drum and cymbals played throughout the dance.
The events were packed in from 12 p.m. to 9 p.m., and the schedule also included workshops and an international bizarre to accompany the international serenade. The night ended with La Pelanga, a California-based DJ collective with Colombian, Indonesian and Dutch influences.
The one main stage positioned on BU Beach allowed patrons to sit in the grass and watch performances. There were also booths peppered around the perimeter of the Beach. At Marsh Chapel Plaza, international organizations gathered to represent their respective cultures.
The outdoor venue was not the original plan, though. The festival took place inside the George Sherman Union in 2019 and Tsai Performance Center in 2018 in previous years. Last year, BU instead participated in the virtual Global Music Month 2020.
“We all are tremendously excited about having it on BU Beach and at this point plan to continue that in the future,” Furman said.
He said the outdoor event created a real “festival atmosphere” while adhering to COVID-19 protocols.
The location change proved to be a success attendance-wise as well.
“We already [had] 1,300 registrations [prior to the event],” said Amanda Harrington, an intern at the festival.
With an outdoor event, “there’s going to be so much foot traffic,” she said, drawing in larger crowds than ever before.
The anticipated number of attendees this year exceeded the total 1,000 attendees in 2019.
The festival was an extension of the BU Global Music Concert Series, produced by the Department of Musicology and Ethnomusicology and the BU Global Music Festcoival in collaboration with the Arts Initiative. Its mission is to provide musical exploration to BU and the public.
As a part of the project’s initiative to represent, educate and encourage exploration, live artistry can help celebrate unity through diversity. After a year online, the festival acted as a vessel “to bring students together,” Furman said.