Thursday, May 9, 2019

New Festival Honors Omar Higgins

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 10:32 AM

click to enlarge mojofest-logo.png

Memphians gathered at Clayborn Temple Wednesday, May 8th, for the unveiling of a new, multi-venue festival to take place October 5-6, 2019. Memphis MOJO Festival will be held Downtown, at a series of venues that includes the Orpheum, B.B. King’s Blues Club, Handy Pavilion, and the main stage at Church Park.

The festival is, in part, the brainchild of the late Omar Higgins, beloved frontman and bassist of reggae group Chinese Connection Dub Embassy, and the hardcore band Negro Terror. Higgins, 37, died on April 18, 2019 from complications related to an untreated staph infection. Higgins was named the Legacy Founder of the upcoming festival, which, like its founder, an avowed fan of a wide spectrum of musical styles, will celebrate multiple genres and promote unity.

The event on Wednesday was a who’s who of local musicians, activists, and business leaders, with Rosalyn Nichols representing Clayborn Temple, Anna Mitchell of Royal Studios, Dale Watson of Ameripolitan Festival fame, and Omar’s brothers and bandmates, Joseph and David Higgins, among the speakers. They praised Omar’s vision and activism and reminded their listeners to carry the torch. “The voice of Memphis is epitomized in the life and spirit of our friend and brother, Omar Higgins,” Mitchell said.

click to enlarge Joseph Higgins speaks during the announcement of the festival.
  • Joseph Higgins speaks during the announcement of the festival.
“This is something we’ve been trying to do for years,” Joseph said, as he stood next to a large photo of Omar. “He believed in unifying every single person.” David spoke next, saying that MOJO Fest was dreamed up when he, Omar, and a friend, a rockabilly fan, ate breakfast together, chewing the fat, dreaming of a festival that lifted up local acts and brought disparate communities together. That breakfast, with its meeting of reggae, hardcore, and rockabilly set the tone for the festival-to-be. David said that, even in the hospital, Omar mentioned the festival and wanted it to happen. He remembered his brother saying, “You know that festival we were talking about last year? Keep that going.”
MOJO is definitely going, and, as envisioned, it looks to be a party. In addition to the six stages of music, there will be a MOJO Expo Industry Event October 2nd-5th, before the festival proper. And the tone of the meeting to announce MOJO Festival wasn’t somber; it was more of a rallying of spirits. Memphis-based muralist Birdcap was on hand, painting a mural of three brilliantly multicolored birds. “They played ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley at [Omar’s] funeral,” he said, noting that the funeral was also held at Clayborn Temple. And the musicians on hand represented an array of genres and styles — soul, blues, singer-songwriter — who played songs before and after the speakers. There was a banjo and saxophone, electric and acoustic guitar, and violin.

Other guests spoke about Higgins and his vision of Memphis, as a unified city where citizens, artists, and activists can celebrate both its history and its future. Dale Watson said that he was pleased MOJO would feature “a little sliver of Ameripolitan,” in a festival with a lineup that proposes to include soul, jazz, blues, punk and garage rock, and gospel music. It’s evident that the festival organizers intend to honor their commitment to diversity, which looks to mean an embarrassment of riches celebrating Memphis’ multifaceted music scene and the life and legacy of one of its most generous musicians. 
Memphis MOJO Festival will be held at multiple locations, October 5-6, 2019.

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