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International Festival: Cool vibrations from music ensembles on Friday, Saturday

Caribbean steel drums, reggae, Ethiopian music all on tap

Innocent Mfalingundi, leader of Innocent Reggae, performs.
Innocent Mfalingundi, leader of Innocent Reggae, performs.
Submitted photo
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WORTHINGTON — Get ready to move and groove to cool tunes rooted in various ethnic traditions.

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“Music is a universal language that transcends culture,” said Felicia Kelly, booking agent for three Twin Cities-based bands slated to perform at the 2022 Worthington International Festival.

“These groups provide cultural opportunities in relaxed settings.”

Experienced and enthusiastic musicians, skilled at putting their audiences at ease, are the hallmark of Pan Dimensions (a Caribbean steel drum duo), Innocent Reggae and Genet Abate (a female-led Ethiopian ensemble).

Prepare to show up, kick back and bliss out as this embarrassment of musical riches is on tap to entertain all comers in free performances at the Nobles County Government Center this weekend.

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Innocent Reggae:
Friday, 6-7 p.m. and 8:05-9 p.m.

With a name like Innocent Mfalingundi, it’s easy to understand why his band goes with the simple moniker Innocent Reggae.“Innocent is from Tanzania, and his band members are from Trinidad and St. Croix [in the U.S. Virgin Islands],” said Kelly, mentioning that Innocent speaks Swahili as well as English.

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“He’s a major artist with Top 10 hits in Tanzania, and he incorporates east African guitar into his reggae.”

It’s not Innocent Reggae’s first Worthington gig; the band has performed at previous Worthington International Festivals to great effect.

“We love getting Innocent Reggae out to communities like Worthington that have large swaths of minority residents,” said Kelly.

“There’s such an underrepresentation of minorities in art and music, and people love it when we share their rhythms and languages.”

Besides their Worthington appearance, Innocent Reggae (which has been a popular group on Minnesota State Fair stages in past years) is sharing its cool tunes and relaxed music this summer in places like the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory, Rochester, Roseville, Fridley and Prescott, Wisconsin, to name a few sites.

“Innocent roots his reggae with positive life messages, and there’s a general hopeful tone and tenor to his performances even though some of the songs are about struggle and liberation,” said Kelly.

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“If kids are there, he’ll get them to sing with him; he brings a very good energy with a lot of hope and strength that help lead to the overall good [reggae] vibrations.”

Pan Dimensions:
Saturday, 12:30-1:25 p.m. 

They make it all look so easy, but do not underestimate Caribbean drum specialists like Lance Pollonais and Charles “Chilly” Petrus of Pan Dimensions. You cannot do this at home.

“The steelpan is considered the most recently invented modern instrument,” said Kelly, who has worked as a high school social studies and geography teacher when she’s not promoting musical ensembles.

All the events scheduled for the International Festival, from Thursday, July 7, to Saturday, July 9.

“It’s only been since the 1990s that Northern Illinois University started programs offering bachelor’s and master’s degrees in steelpan music.”

While pan music traces its origins to post-World War II Trinidad (Pollonais’ home country), where kids started playing around with abandoned oil drums, it has become a specialized pursuit with standardized tuning.

“People love to look at the pan to see how the sounds are made,” said Kelly. “It’s very complicated because every angle is a different note.”

Pan Dimensions has been a popular group at the Minnesota State Fair’s International Bazaar, for instance, but with the duo churning out everything from “Hot, Hot, Hot” to jazz standards to “Love Boat”-worthy sounds on their tenor and double bass drums, they’ve attracted a broad audience and often play for private parties, corporate events and park music series.Said Kelly, “It’s lilting, happy music that everyone likes.”

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Genet Abate
Saturday, 6:20-7:15 p.m.

This Ethiopian ensemble is led by the eponymous Genet Abate.

Genet Abate will perform at the 2022 International Festival in Worthington.
Genet Abate will perform at the 2022 International Festival in Worthington.
Submitted photo by Andrea Canter

Some of their YouTube videos, Kelly reported, have over one million views and counting.

“Genet speaks Amharic, and she has band members who speak Tigrian and Oromo,” said Kelly.

“So there are three distinct cultures and representations on stage, each unique and different.”

In addition, two dancers will demonstrate the traditional Ethiopian Eskista (involving intense movements of the neck, shoulder and chest) and Gurage dances.

“It’s going to be great,” said Kelly, who revealed that Genet Abate will soon be traveling to perform at a reggae festival in San Antonio,Texas.

“Genet appears at Ethiopian communities around the country,” Kelly added. “She studied at the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa.”

Given Worthington’s sizable East African community, Genet Abate should be a huge draw—but attendees of all backgrounds are warmly invited to watch, learn and enjoy.

“This is all family fun,” said Kelly, “and people love it.”

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