That’s why Coachella seemed so important. It didn’t reflect the divisiveness we see reported daily on cable news. It was an evolution from the trend of white artists like Paul Simon, Ry Cooder and Joan Baez bringing international music to American audiences. This wasn’t cultural appropriation. Tollett spent big money to bring original artists to Indio and, thanks to the borderless technology of Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and YouTube, a savvy audience was waiting to appreciate them.
It was refreshing to see so many festival-goers singing in what used to be called foreign languages. Bad Bunny asked his mammoth opening night crowd if they wanted to hear him sing in English or Spanish, and the festival-goers yelled overwhelmingly for Spanish.
I enjoyed most of the international music on a visceral level.
I loved that the Desert Cahuilla Bird Singers represented the Coachella Valley with native rhythms that transitioned seamlessly into the next act in the Gobi tent, Jupiter Bokondji and his band, Okwess (billed as Jupiter & Okwess) from the Democratic Republic of Congo. If you thought the Talking Heads was cutting edge for its time, it was only because you hadn’t heard guitar-driven bands like Okwess from Africa.
This Coachella featured more jazz bands than ever, but none would have reminded you of Miles Davis or Dave Koz. I liked Dinner Party, featuring Kendrick Lamar’s favorite saxophonist, Kamasi Washington. But my favorite sax man was Shabaka Hutchings of the London-based The Comet Is Coming. Keyboardist Dan Leavers pushed the dynamics to the intense, atmospheric levels of a great electronic DJ, but Hutchings reinforced it, creating a whole greater than its two parts with consistent, powerful blowing.
One of the more surprising Coachella bands was the British-American trio, Gabriels, who have been touted by Harry Styles and Elton John. Their Sunderland, England-born keyboard player, Ryan Hope, has a studio in Palm Springs, according to the BBC, and their L.A.-based vocalist, Jacob Lusk, competed on the 2011 season of “American Idol.” Lusk performed in a tuxedo and cape and sang like a cross between a crooner and CeeLo Green.
Houston-based rapper Tobe Nwigwe, who lost the Best New Artist Grammy to Wet Leg earlier this year, found himself playing in the next tent over in the same time slot as the British indie band. I love Wet Leg’s hit, “Chaise Lounge,” and got to the Mohave tent in time to hear them sing it for their finale. But Nwigwe sang in the smaller Gobi as if he had something to prove and was definitely my favorite of the two acts.
My favorite artist in the huge Sahara structure was St. Louis-born DJ Metro Boomin – largely because of his stunning visuals that complemented his powerful electronic music.
Swedish electronic artist Eric Prydz presented the most astonishing visuals in his 3-D, augmented reality show on the Outdoor Theatre stage, titled “Holo.” Figures, including one resembling the iconic astronaut from Coachella’s 2014 exhibition, “Escape Velocity,” floated or reached out into the audience. But the imagery drove the music, rather than vice versa, and the music had to compete with my favorite Coachella act, BLACKPINK, on the main stage.
I enjoyed the K-pop band in the Sahara in 2019, but the four lead female vocalists have taken their artistry up several notches with a stage show featuring amazing male and female dance ensembles and attitudes reflecting American influences. I walked back and forth between the Coachella and Outdoor Theatre stages until I just stopped at the halfway point and experienced them both. It reminded me of my first Coachella, where I found a central point on the much smaller polo grounds of 1999 and soaked in the cacophony of sounds coming from five stages, realizing I had never experienced anything like this before.