Formentera Jazz Festival: A Gathering of Good Vibes on a Small Mediterranean Island

Global artists and their audience party like it’s 1969 at the annual island festival.


The sandy stage of Formentera’s Blue Bar is crowded as the June light fades over the Mediterranean, and the R&B classic “Ain’t No Sunshine” is carried away into a global soul groove by a dozen artists — including flamenco jazz saxophonist Antonio Lizana, Cuban trumpet player Carlos Sarduy, India-raised (and Berklee-trained) vocalist Ganavya Doraiswamy, and bass player Ekkehard Hoffmann, who offers summer electric guitar-building camps at his workshop on the island. Two dogs run around between the mics, and some toddlers bounce with their parents in the space in front of the stage, which at a different kind of concert would be the VIP section. A pile of shoes grows in the sand as glowing women in summer dresses start to dance.

Max Moya Wright, who is grinning as he plays a digital percussion pad, is the party-starter here at the Sunday night jam session, the closing event of the Formentera Jazz Festival. Wright also plays the cajón, and at one point jumps on a table to conduct an ecstatic call-and-response chorus with the crowd that fills every part of the outdoor bar, down to the beach.

Wright is a former member of the influential Barcelona band Ojos de Brujo, and now an administrator at his alma mater, Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain; he grew up in Formentera. The free festival’s main stage, in front of which Wright was frequently approached for a hug during the festivities, was in the church square of Sant Francesc, the island’s biggest town and a site of a convergence of locals and the visitors, who swell the population from a year-round 13,000 to about 45,000 in August, according to official figures.

Featured artists at the festival performed various fusions of progressive jazz, vocal standards, rock and pop and world urban music, Cuban rhythms, flamenco and electronic beats: a programming mix that can recall components of Ojos de Brujo’s innovative sound. The line-up this year, the festival’s third, includes artists who Wright met in Valencia — like the Lithuanian jazz singer Viktorija Pilatovic — as well as in Barcelona, and on his travels as an artist to international festivals. New York’s Nickodemus came in for a late-night DJ set.

The Formentera Jazz Festival is small – there were seven performers on the June 1-4 bill, not including the closing jam session — and has an obvious neighborhood feel. But to call it a “boutique festival” would put a contrived gloss on what Wright describes as “a coming together of great people in a beautiful place.”

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