The Festival began in 1999 as a block party on Durant Avenue to celebrate the people who form this unique and colorful neighborhood in Berkeley. These early festivals launched Berkeley as a beacon for world music. The convergence of eclectic live music and diverse culture struck a chord with an enthusiastic local audience.
In 2004, it was officially titled the Berkeley World Music Festival (BWMF), showcasing performances throughout “The Ave” in shops, balconies and along the sidewalk. Musical styles ranging from Afro-Cuban Jazz to Celtic Fiddle, and everything in between, established the BWMF as a unique neighborhood experience.
In 2008, the BWMF continued as an independent artist-run event. Networking with local institutions and cultural organizations helped to further develop the Festival. The City of Berkeley and the Telegraph Business Improvement District became funders. Amoeba Music, Ashkenaz Music & Dance, and UC Berkeley helped expand programming through the People’s Park concert, initiating the Ashkenaz After-Festival Party and approving the first crafts fair in People’s Park.
The Festival’s live music shows depend on individual donations, partnerships, and sponsors. BWMF merged in 2014 with “Sundays on Telegraph” to produce an additional weekend finale. 2017 marked the first 3-day festival when La Peña Cultural Center hosted a Friday night kick-off party.
Throughout the years BWMF has highlighted the Bay Area’s rich World Music scene from extraordinary street musicians like Michael Masley; cultural center treasure Rumen Shopov (Romani “gypsy”); and under-recognized musicians and internationally renowned artists. Here’s a sample of world premiere artists who’ve graced the festival: Maria Muldaur, Thomas Mapfumo (Zimbabwean), Brass Menazerie (Balkan Brass), Cheb I Sabbah (Pan Arabic & Sufi), Cornelius Boots (Shakuhachi Flute), Dengue Fever (Cambodian Pop), John Santos (Latin Jazz), Melanie O’Reilly (Irish Jazz), Patrick Landeza (Hawaiian Slack Key), Riffat Sultana (Pakistani), Stephen Kent (Didjeridu),Tim Rayborn (Medieval & Renaissance) and Vukani Mawethu (South African Harmonies).
(By the way, Stephen Kent, Vukani Mawethu and Michael Masley will be returning this year.)