Woodstock meets We Are the World 2.0 is how Gina Belafonte describes the inaugural Many Rivers to Cross Festival coming to Bouckaert Farm in Chattahoochee Hills Oct. 1-2.
Produced by Sankofa.org, the social justice organization founded by Belafonte’s dad, Harry Belafonte, the festival brings to town a starry array of names including Dave Matthews, Chris Rock, Carlos Santana, John Legend, T.I., Danny Glover, Macklemore, Dianne Reeves, Jesse Williams, Public Enemy and a procession of others.
Gina Belafonte, who is co-director of the organization, recently visited Atlanta with festival participant and frequent Atlanta ambassador, rapper T.I., to discuss the two-day gathering.
Atlanta was chosen for the festival because of its rich history with the civil rights movement and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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“It’s a space in the South where there is a lot of ground to cover in terms of the egregious behaviors creeping across this country. Atlanta is a very diverse city and there’s an opportunity that the audience we’d like to bring is like a microcosm of the country,” said Belafonte, speaking in the Live Lounge at WSB Radio.
The lineup of artists has continued to expand since the announcement of the festival in July; earlier this month, Wanda Sykes and Ty Dolla Sign joined the roster of more than 60 major names from the entertainment industry.
Belafonte was accompanied by T.I., who said his involvement with the festival was a “no-brainer” after speaking with Harry Belafonte (or, as Gina affectionately refers to him, “Mr. B.”) to glean advice about being a role model.
The King of the South sought the counsel of the King of Calypso this summer after feeling frustrated following the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
“Those were the last things that pushed me over the edge of obligation and I’m looking around like, ‘Nobody doing anything?’ OK, nobody’s doing nothing, so I guess I have to because I felt something should be said, done, strategically aligned,” T.I. said. “I made a list of people I wanted to sit and meet with who I felt could give me the most insight on how to proceed. I don’t know how to be an activist. I don’t know how to lead a human rights campaign. I know how to turn nothing into something, but this is a whole other area for me. So I thought I should approach the leaders and experts in that area and Mr. Belafonte was first on the list.”
Harry Belafonte launched the Sankofa organization (the word comes from the Twi language of Ghana and means “go back and get it”) as an outlet to promote peace, justice and equality and to “elevate the voices of the disenfranchised.” The 89-year-old musician and lifelong humanitarian and political activist is actively engaged in producing the festival and will be there to see it live.
“He’s even been threatening to sing, which I will find fascinating!” Gina Belafonte said with a laugh. “He will certainly be speaking and has curated the closing finale in a beautiful show with incredible images and a lineup of music. He wouldn’t miss this for the world.”
One of the reasons Harry Belafonte established Sankofa.org, according to his daughter, was to provide artists with a platform to freely express themselves.
“I think a lot of artists today who we would hope would be a little more vocal sometimes aren’t because they don’t have the right tools,” Gina Belafonte said. “We want artists to understand that Sankofa is a home and landing spot to use this platform separate from where they make their bread and butter in a safe space, where we will protect what they’re trying to do.”
That isn’t an issue for T.I., who last month released the purposeful and defiant “We Will Not,” the first song from his upcoming EP called “Us or Else.”
“I wish I could say I was concerned with what people thought about my messages, but I just simply can’t. I just speak my mind and the things I’m passionate about, I share. If you disagree, you’re entitled to do so, just as I’m entitled to share. Those are exactly the principles I stand on,” he said. “As artists in hip-hop, our messages are a reflection of our environment and our experiences — the drugs, the violence, all of the things positive and negative. … The only way to change that message is to change the environment and the experience.”
While Many Rivers to Cross will bear the hallmarks of a typical music festival – three stages, 50-plus food vendors – other touches will remind attendees of the purpose of Sankofa.org.
A Social Justice Village will include a “Mural City,” stretching more than 100 yards to showcase the history of the struggle for human rights. Visual art from creators such as Brandan “Bmike” Odums and Douglas Miles will be on display. Even the comedy of Chris Rock and appearances by Danny Glover and Jamie Foxx are expected to be tinged with social justice insight.
“Everything (people) see here will be around the issues of the day,” Belafonte said.
Many Rivers to Cross
With Dave Matthews, Carlos Santana, Chris Rock, T.I., John Legend, Jesse Williams, Macklemore, Danny Glover, Public Enemy, Wanda Sykes and more. Noon Oct. 1-2. Limited offer $40 for two-day general admission; $85 single-day general admission, $200 single-day VIP; $350 two-day VIP. Bouckaert Farm, 9445 Browns Lake Road, Fairburn. 1-877-987-6487, www.manyriversfestival.com.