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How Music Transcends Nations and Generations at International Festival of Life

In its 25th year, the fest will feature reggae, blues, calypso, and more, according to event coordinator Tremell Williams.

Photo: COA Photography

Up next in our series of interviews with notable, in-the-know locals: Tremell Williams, event coordinator for the International Festival of Life, which celebrates 25 years this weekend.

What is the International Festival of Life all about?

Our job is to bring together all nationalities —no matter race, color, or creed—under one roof to celebrate culture and music. Not just Caribbean music, but also music from all over the world. We have two stages and more than 50 acts, doing everything from reggae to blues to hip-hop and R&B to calypso. We also have more than 30 food vendors—everything from Harold’s Chicken all the way to Mexican and Mediterranean food. And of course, we have a lot of jerk-based Caribbean food. We’ll also have vendors offering health screenings and selling custom-made jewelry and clothing.

This is the 25th anniversary of the event. Is there anything new to commemorate that milestone?

We have an indoor carnival for the kids. All kids under 12 get free admission. And this year, Saturday is our gospel and spiritual awakening day, so that day will be all gospel and faith-based performers, from choirs to pastors. Our goal is to attract as many Chicago and surrounding-area youth as possible in an attempt to have a day of nonviolence and spiritual awakening. What we would like to do after the day is over is to join hands in [Union Park, where the festival is located] and to pray and make a pledge to end Chicago violence, or at least counter Chicago violence.

Any musicians you’re particularly excited about?

On Saturday, July 1, we have reggae superstar Capleton headlining. Co-headlining we have Queen Ifrica. On Monday, we’re doing something different also: it will be all DJs, and there will be no other acts. We have the legendary king of house Farley Jackmaster Funk headlining that day, and we have a slew of other DJs performing.

Why is music such a cornerstone of cultural exchange?

It’s universal. Music transcends all nations, all nationalities, all colors and creeds. It’s the universal language. We try to offer a family environment, something that the kids can come to. So we try to bring in artists that people of all generations can enjoy and experience. It’s not the type of festival where you get a predominantly high school crowd, or an older crowd. We have a lot of fans, people from age 6 all the way up to people in their 70s.

Why have a festival like this in Chicago?

We want to bring different cultures into Chicago, and to exchange different cultural things, whether it’s clothing, music, or anything else. The Festival of Life is something anyone can come to, regardless of demographic or age. And we also want to offer quality talent, and support local artists and to give them a platform to perform alongside nationally known acts. Essentially, we want Chicago to come together.

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