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Media and Music for a Better World: Festival Promotes Third World Arts

The Boston Globe

LOWELL - During the days when Boston reggae fans knew her by her radio personality alter ego “Iriela,” deejay Valerie Parker said she grew so inspired by the “unifying, uplifting” spirit of the music that she traveled to Jamaica to begin documenting its evolution in her film “Reggae Revolution” in 1998.  Her experiences in rural, urban, and ghetto communities exposed her to economic disparities and inequities that she continues to combat today as executive director of Lowell-based Second World and founder of the nonprofit organization’s New England Culture Fest, which takes place on Saturday. The fourth annual event, which Parker describes as a “fusion of film, fashion, world culture, and fair trade advocacy,” will be held from 2 to 10 p.m. in the Enterprise Bank parking lot at 172 Middle St. in Lowell.

According to Parker, the New England Culture Fest reflects Second World’s charter of “combining media, music, and art for a better world.” Founded in 1998, Second World bridges the gap between industrialized and Third World nations by promoting fair trade - leading to improved economic, health, and educational conditions - through the marketing of culturally rich artisans and their stories.

“Economic empowerment can preserve a people’s culture and heritage, which can keep them from moving to the city and getting paid per piece or generally low wages,” said Parker, who lives in Lowell.

“We want people to be treated fairly and equitably while making a living with the resources they already have and the things they already know.”

With low ticket prices keeping Culture Fest accessible, Parker said a variety of activities will educate and entertain. She said she is particularly proud of this year’s music headliner, Leon & the Peoples, a reggae band featuring front man Leon Robinson who has appeared in two dozen films including “Cool Runnings,” “Above the Rim,” and “Waiting to Exhale.”
“I’ve played in Boston before but not [the Lowell] area, so I’m really looking forward to coming out,” Robinson said in a telephone interview from his New York City studio, while promising a “high-energy, soulful performance that will get you dancing and singing with us.

“Whenever we do a show we need to be down with the cause,” and the New England Culture Fest “has all kinds of aspects that embody our message,” added Robinson, who said reggae has been the “back beat of my life” since the first time he heard Bob Marley’s music as a child.

“Our band has a mix of a lot of different cultures and we like to entertain lots of different people, so it seems like a good fit,” he said.

Parker said she used the music programming ear of a deejay to select the other reggae, blues, and funk performers who will also entertain and inspire the audience with messages of inclusion and empowerment. More than 100 artists, businesses, fair trade organizations, craftspeople, and restaurants are expected to participate.

Also, a large-scale, interactive video installation on the historic mill buildings will feature fair-trade stories documented by Second World. Parker also expects the fashion show to be a popular part of the event, with union-made footwear and casual clothing available along with handmade, recycled vintage items.

“The model of consumption is changing. People don’t want mass produced; they want handmade,” she said. “We’re glad to be a part of that.”

According to Parker, proceeds from New England Culture Fest will benefit Second World’s art empowerment projects for disadvantaged, indigenous, and marginalized communities in India, Nepal, Peru, and Jamaica, as well as fund efforts to reestablish self-sufficiency in areas affected by conflict and disaster. Eighty percent of Second World’s beneficiaries are women, she said.

“My hope is that people will understand that the world’s problems are solvable and that now is the time to take action,” Parker said. “Barriers between people are man-made. Together, we can dismantle them.”
Daytime admission to the New England Culture Fest is $10, while admission after 7 p.m. is $14. Children younger than 12 are free. For more information, visit


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