Coachella 2024 Wrap Up

By Bruce Fessier
Background photo by L. Gerber

Torres Martinez Cahuilla tribesman, Derek Duro, is an avid hard rock fan. But he declined to appear with his fellow Cahuilla bird singers at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivals in 2022 and 2023, acknowledging that the festival was being held on the tribe’s ancestral land.

He didn’t think a party atmosphere was right for a spiritual ceremony.

But when the bird singers joined the Britpop group, Blur, on Coachella’s main stage, Saturday, April 13, Duro was there, performing the tribe’s sacred oral histories and dances in traditional garb.

“After speaking with a number of people and some of my elders, I was told I was looking at things a little incorrectly,” Duro said by phone after the festival. “They reassured me that I’d be representing the reservation in a positive way, getting us known, getting it out there that we’re still where we’ve been for thousands of years. This is Cahuilla territory still.”

The east Coachella Valley tribal members sang an ancient narrative during Blur’s set between the highly touted reunion shows of Sublime and No Doubt. Then they stayed on stage as Blur performed “Death of a Party,” a ’90s track selected specifically for this occasion.

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It’s reportedly about how the 20th century AIDS pandemic devastated a population. But with the bird singers on hand, it assumed a new meaning, reinforcing what Torres Martinez Tribal Chairman, Thomas Tortez Jr., said at last year’s land acknowledgement: That white settlers started a 19th century smallpox pandemic that decimated the Cahuilla population.

So, Blur and the tribe, working with Coachella producers, delivered a land acknowledgement message without it sounding like a message.

Three songs later, the bird singers returned to support Blur on its 1999 hit, “Tender.” That song features a hand-clap rhythm celebrating the theme, “Love’s the greatest thing.” But Blur frontman Damon Albarn replaced the clapping rhythm with a Cahuilla chorus of percussions to give it a dramatic power that sent the massive audience dancing into the dark.

Event producer Chris Spellman, who arranged the 2022 and ’23 land acknowledgements, said Coachella co-founder Paul Tollett conceived the idea to integrate the bird singers into Blur’s prime-time set. Spellman worked out the details with Blur’s manager and Albarn re-arranged the song in a run through at the Fox Theatre in Pomona. The new percussive parts fit like a glove.

SoCal’s smaller-font acts also proved popular. The Aquabats of Orange County and Eddie Zuko of Imperial County attracted enormously long lines to the small, air-conditioned Sonora tent. Aquabats leader and long-time Tollett friend, Christian Jacobs, co-created the 2007-2015 Nickelodeon series, “Yo Gabba Gabba,” and the band wore “Yo Gabba Gabba” costumes while playing their ska-derived pop punk. Zuko, whose band dressed like food court workers, reminisced in English and Spanish about his small-town roots in his chill, soulful “Made.”

But it was the international acts showcased in nearperfect weather that distinguished the festival and again put it in the lead of where music’s going. Besides fun artists like England’s The Last Dinner Show and New Zealand’s The Beths, this Coachella was about telling stories from parts of the world not covered by CNN and Fox News.

Saint Levant, born in Jerusalem and raised in Gaza before attending UC Santa Barbara, dedicated his set to Gaza. He spoke of Gaza atrocities and the sense of occupation he felt growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp. But it was difficult to hear him express himself due to the volume of No Doubt’s music several acres away. So, he and his sextet played up-tempo music and celebrated his family and college friends in the audience. He was singing a new, unrecorded song titled “Exile” when I yielded to No Doubt’s gravitational pull, causing me to miss his powerful “From Gaza, With Love.” I wish he’d been given a daytime slot so an audience could have focused on his political songs.

Peso Pluma of Guadalajara spoke and sang about Mexico’s narco culture, flashing headlines on the video screen about his death threats from cartels and how Tijuana banned his anthems. He drew a huge Latinx audience with his powerful mix of traditional and contemporary sounds, including workers who stopped to watch his show. He was continuing a tradition of Mexican artists appearing on the main Coachella stage begun in 2019 with Los Tucanes de Tijuana. He sat in with Becky G last year and she was his first guest artist this year.

Niger guitarist, Mdou Moctar, sang “Afrique Victime” in French and Tamasheq about how “Africa is a victim of so many crimes… Oh Gaddafi, to whom have you entrusted Africa?” He started a half-hour late and his pacing meandered. But he fused Niger’s Taureg, or Arabic-sounding music with guitar fireworks propelled by increasingly fast drums. His Sahara rock differed significantly from our heavier, more melodic desert rock.

Other international artists offered unadulterated fun. J Balvin of Colombia featured a partially science fictionthemed set highlighted by a guest appearance by Will Smith rapping “Men in Black” in an MLB suit and signature sunglasses.

The four Japanese singers in Atarashii Gakko performed a high-energy, tightly choreographed set that somehow found a freedom within a restrictive form to feel spontaneous, like a great Shakespearean actor seamlessly navigating iambic pentameter. They performed their most popular number, “Tokyo Calling,” as part of the daytime 88 Rising Asian showcase on Weekend One and returned that night to sing it with taiko drums and members of the USC marching band — making the Gobi tent crowd go crazy. This group could popularize JPop in the U.S.

Cimafunk appeared with a jazzy, nine-piece funk band featuring colorfully dressed women on trombone and saxophone, plus three drummers and percussionists — who could all dance. The set turned into a Mardi Gras when the dynamic leader invited members of the Gobi crowd on stage.

Jungle is a British EDM duo that was an opening act at the 2015 Tachevah Palm Springs Block Party. They’ve evolved into a band that sings and plays their own instruments. Lydia Kitto sang the mesmerizing, Portugal the Man-type vocals on “Back On 74,” making one wonder if they drove through Pinyon Pines on their last visit.

Photo by J. Bajsel

UK vocalist Raye recorded the lascivious “Escapism” with DJ 070, who appeared at last year’s Coachella. She sang it this year with a horn and string section and a small choir. She seems influenced by Amy Winehouse with more range and vulnerability. She sang “Ice Cream Man” about her sexual assault by a record producer and, when the crowd exuberantly embraced her, she teared up. After inspiring the audience to jump up and down and flail their arms, she exclaimed, “You’ve made me a really happy person today.”

The American acts offered even more highlights. Y.G. Marley, grandson of Bob Marley and son of Lauryn Hill, facilitated a mini-Fugees reunion that became a coronation for the next generation of reggae royalty. Jack Antonoff of the Bleachers, best known as the producer for Del Rey and Taylor Swift, went into full rock star mode with Swift and Travis Kelsy in attendance in the Mojave tent.

Jon Batiste, who gave a brilliant 2018 concert at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, played piano, guitar and drums in the Outdoor Theater. But when he sang his hit, “Cry,” he could have been singing it about his reaction to his wife battling cancer.

I began drifting toward the main stage when Batiste’s set was disrupted by Blur’s volume. I wish he could have performed in the more intimate Mojave tent, but, honestly, I was thrilled to see the amazing collaboration between Blur and the Torres Martinez bird singers.

Photos by Bruce Fessier

Bruce Fessier was the first inductee of the Coachella Valley Media Hall of Fame and is a journalist who has covered every Coachella. Contact him at and follow him at and

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