PICTURED: Adaawe, from left: Monique Afenjar, Bridget Graham, Dez “The Pharoah,” Anindo Marshall, Joselyn Wilkinson and Phylliss Bailey Brooks. Photo courtesy of Joselyn Wilkinson

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com

It is unfortunate, if inevitable, that music lovers will be unable to attend Tea and Trumpets, Cabaret, the Rising Stars concert or any of the other performances that make up the annual Ventura Music Festival. But in the spirit of the times, the shows will go on — and they will all be a simple mouse click away.

The Ventura Music Festival has brought the artists online as part of its Music Connects: A VMF Digital Festival. You won’t need to wait until July 23 (the date the festival was originally going to start): VMF is already rolling out content, and will continue to do so every Friday at 11 a.m. as musicians come on board.

“The future for performing and presenting arts organizations is very much in flux,” acknowledges VMF Executive Director Susan Scott. “Everyone has gotten into something that’s digital and online now.”

Music Connects got underway on April 17 with a music video of Anderson and Roe Piano Duo performing Antonio Vivaldi’s “I feel within a rain of tears.” Joy Roe also recorded a message for audiences, talking a little bit about why she and Greg Anderson selected that piece.

The first offering for Music Connects was Anderson and Roe performing Vivaldi’s “I feel within a rain of tears,” preceded by a video message by Joy Roe. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

“It’s so related to what we try to do,” Scott says. “When the audience connects with the artist . . . How do you interject some of this into a digital series?”

To that end, VMF asked artists — some local, some not; past performers as well as those new to VMF in 2020 — to “do a short video about where they are in this pandemic,” and how that feeling relates to the music they selected for the performance. It’s an intimate glimpse of the creative process, and the mind of the musician, that gives texture and context to the music.

The second piece, released just last week, features Perla Batalla singing “Cucurrucucú Paloma” by Tomás Mendez, a moving song about a man suffering from a broken heart. Batalla recently lost a dear friend to COVID-19, and the performance was dedicated to him.

Perla Batalla performed “Cucurrucucú Paloma” for Music Connects. Photo by Guy Webster

While these first two offerings tap into the melancholy mood prevalent for many during this time, the video scheduled to drop this week should be an uplifting tonic. Adaawe is “seven diverse, dynamic women of the voice and drum.” The artists come from all parts of the U.S. as well as Morocco, Israel, Panama and Kenya. The sound is built on a West African foundation, with Gospel and funk woven in, and the group’s name comes from a musical tradition based in southern Ghana where women of the Ga culture come together to sing and dance. Adaawe’s blend of music and movement is exhilarating, inspiring and hopeful — exactly what’s needed in the world right now.

“I was introduced to them at the Western Arts Alliance conference last summer,” Scott says. “They were just sensational. . . . Dancing, movement, heartfelt stuff.”

Several other artists have already provided digital content for Music Connects. In the coming weeks, expect to see Latin Grammy-winning Spanish guitarist Diego Garcia aka El Twanguero, who first wowed VMF audiences in 2018 with his blend of blues, rock, Flamenco and Latin twang. Scott respectfully declines to state the complete lineup — “We’ve got to keep some secrets!” she says with a laugh — but notes that “We’re covered through early June.”

How long will Music Connects last? At one point, organizers were aiming for July 30 — but Scott will happily keep it going if musicians continue to send in videos.

“The length of the festival will depend in some part on the extent to which local musicians want to participate,” she explains. Ventura County artists are encouraged to apply. For more information, see “Calling All Local Musicians” in Music.

The future of the physical festival is an open question. No one really knows when stay-at-home orders will be lifted, or if public performances will even be permitted. If venues are allowed to open, the logistics of social distancing are tricky. And, as Scott points out, “Will audiences want to come out?”

“How do we stay relevant in the meantime?” Scott muses. “We’ll all rise to the occasion as best we can. It’s a moving condition, and we need to move with it.”

Music Connects: A VMF Digital Festival presents Adaawe on Friday, May 1, at 11 a.m. New content will be made available every Friday on an ongoing basis. For more information, call 805-648-3146 or visit venturamusicfestival.org.