CRASHFEST brings the world to House of Blues

Fela! The Concert, adapted from the Broadway musical about the life of Fela Kuti, promises to be one of the main attractions at CRASHFEST.
Fela! The Concert, adapted from the Broadway musical about the life of Fela Kuti, promises to be one of the main attractions at CRASHFEST.Shane Reid

World Music/CRASHarts may have formally changed its name to Global Arts Live, but the organization hasn’t changed its adventurous spirit of artfully “crashing” boundaries to celebrate a variety of performance mediums and cultural traditions from around the world. The upcoming fifth annual CRASHFEST Feb. 22 is quite the case in point.

In collaboration with Crossroads Presents, the one-night “Music Knows No Borders” showcase features 10 bands, from Afrobeat to klezmer, spread across three different stages at the House of Blues. In addition, three dance acts will perform during set changes on a bump-out of the mainstage — Boston’s lively hip-hop duo the Wondertwins, Moroccan dancer Soumaya MaRose, and Soles of Duende, a trio based in the rhythms of tap, flamenco, and Kathak.


Global Arts Live executive director Maure Aronson says the goal is to create an atmosphere of community and musical discovery in one evening event. “We have at least 12 different countries represented onstage, and it is really diverse in terms of audience, a mix of ages, different communities. I see this festival as this is what America is.”

Last year’s CRASHFEST drew roughly 2,000 people, with more expected this time around.

Food stations throughout the venue and performance start times that are staggered to overlap are part of the plan to encourage wandering and exploration. “It’s a great vibe, very open, and the audiences are very welcoming,” says two-time festival participant Sunny Jain, founder and dhol player of the Brooklyn-based bhangra fusion band Red Baraat. “I don’t know of any other event like this in Boston. It’s unique in bringing together all these bands and genres under one roof, and it’s really a nice flow, to go from room to room and experience all these different flavors.”

The four mainstage acts feed into the festival ethos of diversity, with supergroup Bokanté especially emblematic. Musical talents from five countries across four continents contribute to its distinctive, richly accented global sound. Founded by Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, the Grammy-nominated group’s influences range from the delta blues to Turkish percussion. Bokanté — the name means “exchange” in Creole — is fronted by Caribbean singer/songwriter Malika Tirolien, who says her lyrics are often inspired by something she’d like to see change in the world. “The band is a statement of how we can all communicate together from different places,” she says, “everybody expressing themselves to bring out their culture and ideas, but still [leaving] space for conversation.”


Grammy-nominated Malian singer, actress, songwriter, and activist Fatoumata Diawara is also driven by a social conscience. “Don’t sing just to sing,” she maintains, “sing to change things, to make things better.” She says she is drawn to the positive message CRASHFEST represents and the event’s “no borders philosophy, which is exactly what I feel about music and life.” Her lyrics reflect that, bolstered by a voice of earthy huskiness and impressive range.

The splashiest mainstage draw promises to be a concert version of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “Fela!,” based on the music and life of the late Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, with members of the cast backed by a 10-piece band. The show illuminates one of the world’s most celebrated musical rebels and human rights champions. And according to press materials, it is the closest you can get to an actual Fela Kuti performance in 2020. Aronson says, “It’s unbelievably exciting, a powerhouse of movement and music.”


Rounding out the mainstage music programming, Cha Wa heads in a different direction with its New Orleans brass funk/soul rooted in the traditions of Mardi Gras Indian tribes. The band has been described by international culture magazine Pop Matters as “a grand gumbo of singing, chanting, intoxicating rhythms, and some deep funk grooves that are simply impossible to resist.”

The festival also takes over the restaurant stage and offers a rare opportunity to experience music in the House of Blues’ luxurious Foundation Room, usually reserved for VIP members. Spread over those two stages will be performances by Betsayda Machado, Albino Mbie, Los Cumpleaños, Immi & The Mahoots, Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band, and Atlas Soul.

Building on to the messaging woven through many of the musical performances, CRASHFEST includes a social platform for audiences to get in on the action. This year, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and De Novo Center for Justice and Healing will have tables set up to advocate for their services, as well as to facilitate letter and card writing in support of the rights of immigrants and refugees.

Bokanté’s League says, “With what’s going on the world right now, people are being more active in offering a contradiction to things like xenophobia, racism, sexism, marginalization. So things like CRASHFEST are a beautiful manifestation of that other perspective of inclusiveness and celebration of diversity. It’s very important to stand up for that, because right now, we’re all being put to the fire.”



At House of Blues, Boston, Feb. 22, at 5:30 p.m. Tickets $48-$55, 617-876-4275, www.globalartslive.org

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.