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Music festival a showcase of cultures

I made it to the Madison World Music Festival at 3:30 p.m., just in time to see the dismantling of the Tibetan Buddhist Mandala, which had been worked on with excruciating detail of the last few days.

The Mandala was made of brightly colored sand that was as intricate as a tapestry. The lead monk explained that the creation and dismantling of the mandala was a form of meditation, and done with extreme reverence.

The dozen monks there, all dressed in red and yellow robes, donned ceremonial hats, pulled out their instruments, surrounded the table, and began to chant. They chanted for several minutes, changing from monotonous, to melodious, to guttural. They would occasional intersperse their chanting with a cacophony of sound from their instruments; a collaboration of trumpets, drums, cymbals, and bells.

One monk, who carried the bell, circled the table twice, then laid a sunflower in the center of the mandala. He began the actual dismantling by placing a few specks of sand on his head, then deliberately used his fingers to drawn straight lines in the sand in the directions of the compass.

A second monk came up to the table with a sturdy brush and reverently brushed the sand in circular motions, destroying the intricate patterns and turning the mandala into brightly colored sand. After that, the monks stopped chanting and began the clean up, scooping up sand placing them into tiny baggies to give out to the large crowd.

They set up a little gift shop that sold prayer beads, books by the Dalai Lama, jewelry with Buddhist designs, and frames with quotes. They also had pamphlets advertising charities that would help the monks. A few minutes later, ten monks donned their hats again and with their instruments, made a procession that left the Shannon Theater and made their way to the docks, where they continued to play their instruments.

That was how the Madison World Music Festival started last Friday.

Before the next act began at 5:30, several colorful women on stilts advertised future events in the Madison World Music Festival.

The music came on again on the outside stage at Shannon Theater. Rajab Suleiman & Kithara from Zanzibar started out with some slight difficulty with the sound system, but when they got into their rhythm, you just had to bounce your foot to the beat of the Swahili songs. One woman in the audience was in a constant dance as she listened to the music.

The group consisted of three women, one a singer, the others dancers, and five men on instruments that included drums, an accordion, and two string instruments. The women danced with thick sashes around their waists to emphasize their quick hip movements, and one of the gentlemen musicians, I can only assume Rajab Suleiman, came up to sing with maracas.

At the finale, the dancers got off the stage and danced among the crowd, much to the audience’s delight. Their CDs and other textiles were sold at a concession stand.

The next group, Alsarah & the Nubatones, the Sudanese-American group, were up next, only a few minutes late, but their warm up was phenomenal. They had two phenomenal lead singers that wore a blend up hip, modern clothes and traditional.

The musicians worked on drums, a string instrument, and electric base guitar. The singers pulled you in with the power of their voice first, before the musicians followed them up with a song that rigorous beat that had your foot tapping along. Several people in the audience, men, women, and little children, danced along to their music.

It was with great regret that I had to leave early and could not hear the final group that performed at the festival, the Dhol Foundation, an Indian group from England, but if they were anything like the first two groups, then they were definitely worth listening to.

If anyone has the time, go take your loved ones and visit on the last day of Madison World Music Festival at the Shannon Theater on Thursday, which will present the Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino from Italy and Troker from Mexico. You won’t want to miss the wonderful music from another culture.