For our 8th year, the New Orleans Sacred Music Festival is bannering the theme “Music Against Hate.” In the past we have avoided any hint of negative language, but now we are directly confronting a larger milieu of increasing factionalism, intolerance and distrust. Against this we come together to share music and gifts from many faiths and cultures, much-needed medicine for our times. The fest is a healing space for us to sing, play, dance, listen, pray and celebrate. Sean Johnson, one of its founders and the author of this year’s theme, likes to quote the mystic Meister Eckhart who said “God is a great underground river that no one can stop, and no one can dam up.” The spiritual traditions from around the world represented at the festival are like wells that offer participants the opportunity to quench their hearts in this parched time and drink from the great sacred unifying river that flows beneath.
Sallie Ann Glassman, another founder, remembers the first festival. She was amazed at what being present with hundreds (now thousands) of happy, loving, spiritually focused people felt like. It was beautiful to hear the Muslim Call to Prayer recited in person over our heads and also to watch Imam NuMan beaming in appreciation while Cantor Joel Colman sang Jewish songs. Not to mention the joy of watching Tibetan monks dancing to Gospel music. At the fest we discover the many kinds of sacred music as well as the spiritual sides of well-known and much-loved musicians: Deacon John performing spirituals, Mayumi Shara and James Singleton reimagining traditional second lines via Japanese taiko drumming and mashups of Chuck Perkins’s poetry and Claudia Copeland’s medieval chants. The festival has expanded to include a St. Roch Avenue peace walk, interactive workshops, a youth program and many striking altars from different faiths. Sallie Ann notes that the fest is simultaneously steeped in tradition and cutting edge and, as always, lives into the truth that in New Orleans the sacred is funky!