This Just In: Get Ready for iFest

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The Houston International Festival, also known as iFest, has announced the lineup for its 37th annual edition, set to take place April 19-20 and 26-27 on nine stages spread across downtown. Instead of spotlighting a specific country this year, its theme “Out of Africa: The Three Journeys,” encompasses music, dance and other cultural traditions (even an Ethiopian fashion show) from the African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American spheres. Here’s a stage-by-stage rundown of what to expect when the world – or several continents’ worth, anyway - comes to Houston.

Bud Light World Music Stage: The main stage, with most of the big-ticket out-of-town talent. Headliners are Chicago blues sage Buddy Guy and Jamaican reggae royalty the Wailers the first weekend, and New Orleans chieftains the Neville Brothers and South African trumpet maestro Hugh Masekela (leading a Pan-African jam) the second.

Supporting acts having their passports stamped are Habib Koite (Mali), Emeline Michel (Haiti), Major Riley (Trinidad), Joaquin Diaz (Dominican Republic) and Belizians the Garifuna Collective’s salute to recently departed bandleader and national hero Andy Palacio.

Garifuna, by the way, is a Central American tribe that developed when two slave ships wrecked off the coast of St. Vincent Island (a volcanic island 100 miles west of Barbados) in the 1630s, and the survivors gradually commingled with the native islanders who took them in. Colonial powers bounced the Garifuna around the Caribbean until they eventually took root in Belize, especially around Palacio’s native city of Barranco, where he led the Garifuna Collective until his death in January.

But I digress. Rounding out the main stage is a passel of artists from the good old U.S. of A.: Second-generation blues legacy Shemeika Copeland, daughter of late Third Ward guitar-slinger Johnny Clyde Copeland; Detroit R&B diva (and Pitchfork favorite) Bettye LaVette; the Lowrider Band, a.k.a. the original members of “The World is a Ghetto” funkateers War; and two from our neck of the woods, Austin cumbia kings Grupo Fantasma and long-running Houston Afrobeat collective D.R.U.M.

WaMu Center Stage: Both weekends, the National Dance Theater of Ethiopia makes its North American debut, accompanied by a live band. The troupe performs several times each day.

The Cotton Club: Several Houston artists recreate the sights and sounds of the legendary Harlem nightclub featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s eponymous 1984 film: Nelson Mills III as Cab Calloway; Mills’ wife Gloria Edwards as Dinah Washington; Diunna Greenleaf as Bessie Smith; Barrie Lee Hall as Duke Ellington; Carolyn Blanchard as Lena Horne; and Leo Polk as Louis Armstrong.

The Louisiana Stage: The popular stage saluting our neighbors to the east returns for a third year. Performers include French gypsy trio Samarabalouf, Lafayette’s Red Stick Ramblers and string-band trio the Carolina Chocolate Drops April 19; and blues harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite, slide guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth, New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty and Grammy-winning zydeco accordionist Terrence Simien April 20.

The next weekend brings Houston zydeco masters Brian Jack and Step Rideau; popular New Orleans brass-band transplants the Soul Rebels; local blues belter Trudy Lynn; Bay City gospel shouters the Jones Family Singers; Houston roots-rockers the Hollisters; Lafayette’s energetic Bluerunners; and hip-hop/gospel hybrid Soulfruit.

Chron.com Houston Stage: The deep, diverse Bayou City talent on display here more than makes up for its sponsorship by a certain other local publication. There’s the blues-centric April 19 show with Little Joe Washington, Earl Gilliam, Sonny Boy Terry and the Zydeco Dots; a “Saxophone Summit” April 20, hosted by Kyle Turner with Mike Reed, Kelly Dean and Cameron Scott; Sugar Bayou, Miss Leslie, Sean Reefer & the Resin Valley Boys, Johnny Falstaff and the Hollisters twanging it up April 26; and a you-name-it April 27 bill with Free Radicals, Ryan Scroggins & the Trenchtown Texans, Spain Colored Orange and Plump.

Latin Stage: All sorts of Latin culture, mostly local, here: rock en espanol, hip-hop, salsa, conjunto, mariachi and ballet folklorico. Performing are Felipe Galvan y Sus Carnales, Flamin’ Hellcats and Mariachi Los Coyotes April 19; L.A. rockers Pastilla with Houston’s Cuervo and Yoko Mono April 20; Mexico City’s Somabit with Joaquin Diaz, Los Pistoleros and Espantaparajos April 26; and Karina Nistal & Rebel Crew, Grupo Batacha and Mary’s Band April 27.

HEB Cultural Stage, Gullah Stage: Both located within iFest’s “Living Museum” area, these stages offer drum circles, dance lessons, griot storytelling, gospel choirs and theatrical vignettes based around the “Out of Africa” theme.

Target International Kids Stage: Gives the little ones plenty to take in with several local dance, hip-hop and gospel performers.

iFest is also holding free Friday lunchtime concerts (performers TBD) April 18 and 25 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tickets go on sale March 10 at area HEB stores, at an early-bird price of $8.50 (per day) until April 16; $12.50 from April 16-27; and $15 at the gate. Kids 12 and under get in free. For complete schedules and more information visit www.ifest.org. – Chris Gray

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