Music, with its ability to bridge racial, cultural and religious divides, is a more powerful force than hate. More of the former is an antidote to the latter.
That is the guiding philosophy behind the eighth annual New Orleans Sacred Music Festival, which takes over the New Orleans Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue on Saturday.
Following a Peace Walk that departs from nearby St. Roch Park at 9 a.m., the festival will present more than 10 hours of music, rituals, workshops and prayers drawn from various musical and spiritual traditions at the Healing Center.
Admission is free; food and crafts will be available for purchase.
The schedule includes New Orleans legend Deacon John Moore performing a set of spiritual music, Tibetan Buddhist chants, Japanese Taiko drumming, a Muslim call to prayer, a Hindu fire sacrifice, Celtic tribal spirituals, Tonya Boyd-Cannon’s youth choir, mantra music by festival co-founder Sean Johnson & the Wild Lotus Band and a vodou ceremony led by Sallie Ann Glassman, another of the festival’s co-founders
Eugene Hutz, lead singer of international music ensemble Gogol Bordello, is slated to close out the festival.
Hutz essentially embodies the Sacred Music Festival's ethos of unity amidst diversity. He grew up in Ukraine and formed Gogol Bordello in New York in 1999 with members from Russia, Ethiopia and Ecuador. Flavors from those and other countries are woven into Gogol Bordello’s mix, which often surges with the unbridled abandon of punk rock and may include spaghetti Western-style themes, reggae, mariachi music and classical melodies.
“The fundamental point” of the festival, Glassman has said, “is that we can create bridges of understanding through the vehicle of music.”
Glassman, one of a small number of Americans to be ordained a vodou high priestess, or mambo, via a full religious initiation rite in Haiti, has long sought spiritual solutions to community issues. That in part is what inspired her and her husband, Pres Kabacoff, to develop the Healing Center on what had been a forlorn stretch of St. Claude.
The center is now home to everything from a grocery store to a barber shop to a performance space to Glassman’s Island of Salvation Botanica.
Johnson’s Wild Lotus Band, a “kirtan” trio focused on a traditional form of Indian spiritual voice music, is also representative of the Sacred Music Festival's ethos. As yoga has grown more popular in the West over the past 30 years, Johnson and other Western musicians have grafted mantras and chants to more familiar forms of music.
Influenced by New Orleans and Irish music, he plays the harmonium, a small keyboard that originated in Denmark. Missionaries brought it to India, where locals modified it by removing the legs and foot pedals.
The goal, Johnson has said, is to “take people to a place we all share, no matter what culture, or what language we speak.”
To Johnson, Deacon John singing “Ave Maria,” an iman offering up the Muslim call to prayer and Mardi Gras Indians chants all appeal to “this common thirst to connect to something deeper and greater, a mystery that is unnamed, and can only be felt.
“Music is a great way for us to understand each other’s differences because we can feel that underlying thing, that mystery that underlies our being."