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MUSIC: Ventura County

Fascinating Rhythms

Multicultural music--from Polynesia to Pakistan--will fill Libbey Bowl.


World music is coming to Ojai. And why not? After all, Libbey Bowl plays host to two successful musical events each year--Bowlful of Blues in the fall and the world-class classical Ojai festival at the beginning of summer.

Why not a celebration of multicultural music? That's the question being raised and answered by Saturday's festival.

Michael and Suzanne Kaufer, whose Foundation of American Roots Music (FARM) also stages the blues fest, are staging a daylong, multicultural event with music, food and a mask exhibit.

Headlining the festival is the Bay Area-based group E.W. Wainwright and African Roots of Jazz, which combines and connects jazz with African and South American styles.

Maile's Island Tropic Dancers present music from Hawaii and Polynesia, and there will be Native American Singers and the Middle Eastern music of Merhaba.

A late-breaking addition to the festival lineup is Mahmood Khan. Reportedly, he is the first Pakistani pop singer to have recorded with the legendary world-music superstar Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan on his album "Only One."

From our own corner of the globe come the Estrada Brothers, the celebrated Latin-jazz band whose career took off last year with the release of its first album for Milestone. That group's percussionist, Raul Rico Jr., who has a radio show on KCLU-FM called "Global Beat," is also featured in the festival with his dance-geared salsa group, Mambo'n.

African Roots of Jazz may be an ideal headliner in that it traces the lineage of a great American music back to Africa. Drummer Wainwright has done stints with McCoy Tyner, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders and Marc Almond.

But, when African Roots of Jazz began in 1977, he was in a lull, living in Los Angeles and trying to get off the road so he could be involved in raising his family.

Approached by musicians Ricky Kelly and Gary Fitzgerald, the new project was formed partly as a way of spreading cultural knowledge among young people lacking a sense of heritage. Wainwright, interviewed in Oakland where he and his wife teach music, said that from the beginning the project was "dedicated to not only entertaining and performing, but also educating.

"Jazz is the healer. That was the first music that brought white and black together on the bandstand. That was the one that broke the color barriers down in New Orleans and elsewhere, and it was born out of an irony of American history," he said, referring to the music's roots in slavery.

"We should be proud of it. It should be in the schools and it should be an integral part of our educational system, because it's such a positive story in the midst of such tragedy."

The group, which shifted its base from Los Angeles to Baltimore and finally to Oakland, has had a rotating cast of musicians who work in other contexts, but come together in this vehicle. One spotlighted member is Phavia Kujichagulla, a historian and performer who has taught at Stanford University and works in the West African oral/musical tradition of the griot, or oral historian.

"That was the missing link," Wainwright said of her joining the group. "Hers was the female energy and that African history and perspective that we needed to balance out our name, African Roots of Jazz. As a griot, she is more than a band member. She not only plays instruments, she dances and writes and sings and choreographs and does storytelling. She does everything."

Now the group continues to perform in schools, to give workshops in prisons and to perform, as they will in Berkeley late this month, at the newly remodeled jazz club Yoshi's.

In Ojai, according to Wainwright, we can expect to hear "a variety of music, from West Africa, from South America, from South Africa, and then our own variation of whatever that means. We're a band with a purpose and a mission," he said. "The mission is to enrich the quality of life for those who come into contact with it. We use our art as a tool to try to make things better on this planet for the people."


Ojai World Music Festival, Sat., 2-10 p.m., at Ojai's Libbey Bowl. Tickets are $15 in advance; $17 at the gate; $10, senior citizens and students. Call 646-8126.

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