“We create the place where people can share culture. That’s what the festival is about,” says Graham Morris, executive director of Salem Multicultural Institute, which hosts the 16th Annual World Beat Festival.
This year’s World Beat Festival, which takes place June 29-30 at Riverfront Park in Salem, will showcase about 600 performers, 125 performances and 65 nations and cultures featuring a non-stop program of international music and dance.
“We build, so to speak, the whole world at the festival each year,” continues Morris. “We have what we call ‘world villages.’ We have the African village, Americas village, European village and Asia Pacific village.” Each village offers a variety of performances, hands-on cultural workshops, activities, crafts and more.
Visitors to the festival can explore nine different performance areas where they can enjoy Native American Pow Wow dance, Celtic dance, Flamenco, Indonesian dance, Bollywood dance, Japanese taiko, Middle Eastern dance and much more.
While the festival celebrates many heritages, Japanese culture will be this year’s focus.
“Probably five or six years ago, we decided to have a focus each year. It’s just a chance for us to explore one particular culture in a little more depth,” says Morris. Artists such as Takafuji Dance Company and calligrapher Chosho Yabe are flying in from Japan to perform at the festival.
In addition to enjoying Takafuji’s lion dance and sword fighting performances and Chosho Yabe’s art as she paints a huge Japanese street scene mural, guests will also be able to take in taiko drumming, Japanese cooking demonstrations, rakugo Japanese comedy, Okinawan dance and music, and a kimono fashion show.
“One of the really cool things at the World Beat each year … is Saturday night. We do a headliner band but we also do fire dancing after dark … We also have Portland Taiko doing a set alongside some fire dances. And at the same time, the Takafuji Dance Company will be on the stage in their kimonos dancing. So it’s going to be quite spectacular, I think,” Morris says.
The festival is a program of the Salem Multicultural Institute, a non-profit whose mission is to promote an awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity in the community.
“The festival is the way we do that, and we celebrate and explore cultural heritage at the festival,” explains Morris.
The organization was started in 1997 by two moms with young daughters who saw the need to create a positive, tangible response to growing concerns about racial tensions in Salem. Since then, the average annual attendance has reached approximately 30,000 guests, and 1,000 volunteers help run the festival.
There is no admission fee to attend World Beat, as organizers strive to keep the festival accessible to the community. However, they do ask for a $5 donation.