Plai Festival World Music Festival Romania - Hippie Van

Remember PLAI festival, the multicultural event we were telling you about earlier this month? A world music festival taking place in Romania in the middle of September in the Banat Village Museum – a place filled with tradition and history, PLAI brings together sonorities from all over the world and hundreds of cultural activities. Patrice, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Oquestrada, Fatoumata Diawara are just some of the names that will be on the stage of the 7th edition of this festival, organized entirely by volunteers.

Having brought the spotlight on so many different cultures throughout the past six editions, we reached to one of the pioneers of the festival, Andreea Iager, to tell us a bit about the experience of organizing such a complex and wonderful event. From a simple idea to the popularity it has gained today, this is the story of how a handful of people driven by passion can put together a beautiful project.

Already organizing the 7th edition of the festival this year, we asked Andreea how is it like to look back on what they have accomplished for the past years. And even though it has come to such proportions, it’s still unbelievable to realize that they’ve made it to this point, as the excitement of the first days still lasts to this moment.

It is quite amazing for us that this year we’re counting the 7th edition. It started like such a wild dream and the time went by so fast that it takes me a while to comprehend the size of what we thought of on a summer’s day. In the same time we acknowledge the importance of this history we built for the festival and for the organizing part, as now we can also pass on the know-how to the young generation of volunteers that join each year and we are approached by artists and management companies as an important world-music festival they want to be a part of. It’s still a mix of enthusiasm and excitement before each edition even if we went through so much.

The festival started out of the desire to bring the city of Timisoara back to its cultural roots. Andreea and Norbert, two individuals motivated by the passion for music, volunteering and social issues wanted to restore the cultural background in Timisoara and try to make individuals acknowledge the importance of their own background.

The idea started in the summer of 2006 when we (Norbert and I) went to visit the Banat Village Museum; we were sad seeing the museum in a very bad shape, with no visitors. Also, we were sad that the city we once knew as a very powerful cultural hub in Romania, was becoming more of a business center, with little cultural events other than the Beer and Wine festivals. We wanted to have an event in Timisoara, a festival like those for which both our friends and us traveled for miles and miles. Norbert was very passionate by music and I was very interested in volunteering and social issues. We designed the festival as a multicultural one because we want Romanians to be more proud that they are Romanian, of their cultural heritage, embracing diversity and this can be achieved only through interacting and having a real and profound encounter with many other cultures. This is how we came up with the diversity focus point of the concept. The cultural partners are very important to us as we strongly believe that a healthy society is made up by people that get involved in the issues they believe in and in which they invest, no matter their age, by volunteering. In this idea PLAI has become a very big NGO hub with the hope that people will discover other people, organizations and ideas that inspire them.

Volunteers are PLAI World Music Festival in Romania

The experience of organizing the festival has had its ups and downs throughout the years, like every project started from scratch. However, against all odds, the organizers never thought of quitting. They prove that you can pay it forward through your actions, and instead of being a “complainer”, you can be a “doer”.

Overall, with all the challenges of organizing a festival, no matter how many years of experience or history it has, with us getting older every year, with everything else that makes you wonder if it makes sense, we never thought of quitting. Not even when we owed a lot of money and paid it from our salaries or when everything seemed to be against making the festival happen. PLAI is a great joy for all the people involved, at the end of the day. It is the passion we discovered we can bring and give to our society and it’s our way to act on something we discovered can be bettered. We don’t believe in complaining, but we do believe in taking action and making a difference. PLAI is our action.

Positive feedback from participants and artists, but also the receptiveness of the public in general is another source of energy for the organizers, being just one of the reasons that keep them going even today. The desire to make a difference and the experience as a journey are also great incentives to continue the tradition of the festival.

Each year the vibe of the festival, the visitors and the artists make us go on by enjoying the festival so much, by saying how much they loved it and felt it was something different. They make it so special even for us and give us the reason and the energy to go on. We never tough of quitting because we don’t want to give up and we know that both what we offer and what we learn from it can make a difference, especially now when more and more volunteers join and their age is younger and younger. We feel it now also as a duty to keep on going.

After so many editions, where cultures collided  and so many brilliant artists stepped on the stage of the festival, stories just keep unfolding. Andreea recalls just some of them. And even when things were difficult, the organizing team saw the positive part and enjoyed their work. Their passion is what makes this festival different among so many similar events. It’s great to see people working for a great idea, but when they are enjoying it it’s even better.

There are many funny and very nice memories given both by the visitors and the artists, as well as the whole team of volunteers. We will never forget how hard it was to arrange all the beverage rider for Paco de Lucia (with very specific champagne, French beer, etc) and we ended up drinking it with the volunteers as he only wanted the local wine and beer. Also he insisted on having 10 palm trees on the stage and no matter how much we tried to explain the stage is too small, we had to have them ready in the backstage. They ended up not wanting them on stage and we had the greenest backstage that year. We had Misia enjoying the mud and posting a lot of pictures on Facebook with our boots, Mariza that always wanted to walk around the city and not use a car, making sure that we are eating and taking care of us (as she admired how much we were working), Al di Meola that started to challenge Gumbi on showing us pictures with their kids… and so many others… it would take hours and hours to talk about them all. So many beautiful and funny memories.

PLAI Festival - World Music Festival in Timisoara Romania

Regardless of your cultural background or music tastes, Andreea encourages everyone to come to the festival, not only this year but in general. The experience of diversity, culture and meeting people from all around the world is an amazing one and PLAI gives you the opportunity to experience all of those and a lot more in one place.

I strongly believe that people, no matter their interests and likes, should come to the festival, at any edition and for all of them, to give themselves a breath of fresh air, enjoy diversity and the people that come. PLAI should be enjoyed for all the activities that so many organizations are preparing and offering during the day, for the beauty of discovering new artists, great artists that are not mainstream but that are very valuable artists that offer next to music a great cultural imprint. From the opening of chakras to traveling around the world to China or Brazil, Portugal or Africa, the world music scene is a rollercoster of countries and diversity. This year as well we are bringing a very colorful mix of music: Patrice, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Fatoumata Diawara, Oquestrada, Blue Nipple Boy, The Ganga Jazz Ensemble and Subcarpati, aside of many cultural activities, workshops from music workshops to cooking workshops, yoga classes, Portuguese lessons and so many other activities. This year more than 80 new volunteers applied from all over Romania and we also have 7 volunteers that came from Italy, Croatia, Slovakia, Poland, China and Japan which for sure will bring more diversity to the organizing team.

Besides encouraging the public to experience other types of music and cultures, PLAI is also an opportunity to enjoy the simple things in life, things that we often put aside because of the busy lives we are living. From a smile, to the joy of music or a simple walk in the forest, PLAI is also a place for switching off for one moment.

We hope, for as long as PLAI will happen and be alive, that the festival will be a great joy for everyone involved and they will feel the same excitement as ours before each edition. We want it to stay the playground of big and small, the encounter of cultures and diversity in every form because learning from diversity is what makes us better as people. A time to share and embrace what is given, PLAI brings back the simple things to enjoy and the extraordinary of art in every shape and form that keeps to amaze and that can be hidden in everyone of us.

But besides the locals from Timisoara, the festival itself has welcomed a more international audience than ever. So you can experience diversity not only through the music, but also among the public. The organizers hope that is will become even more international in the following editions.

We are very happy that the public becomes more and more diverse in terms of cultural background. Depending on the artists we bring local and international visitors come to the festival. We want to reach 50% of the public to be international. This year we are expecting a lot of visitors but we can never be sure of a straight number. The history shows between 6000 and 2000 visitors per edition.

Artists and visitors from past editions were very receptive and encouraging towards the organizers. Recommendations and nice impressions from artists have spread the word about this festival beyond the borders of Romania.

Both visitors and artists were so kind to us, always telling us how much they appreciate our work and how they could feel it was different and special than any other even they were part of. Of course part of it is politeness, but also by the way we kept in touch (especially with Al di Meola, Misia, Mariza and their management companies) and by the way they recommended the festival to other artists we could see it was more than just saying something nice. This is also a great joy and energy source to go on, when artists and festival lovers that have traveled the world and seen so many events tell us how well organized PLAI is and what a special vibe it gives to them.

Plai Festival World Music Festival Romania - Stage

Although the date of the festival is not a very convenient one for touring, this hasn’t stopped the organizing team of Plai to bring some amazing artists on stage. And they still want to bring so many others, having plans for at least five future editions of the festival, as Andreea admits.

There are many artists we dream to have on the stage of the festival and we are already in touch with them for some time, trying to arrange and set the dates to match. The time of PLAI (middle of September) is out of the normal touring dates for Europe for the artists, making it even a bigger challenge to make up the line-up every year. We already have drafts for the next 5 editions of PLAI at least, artists we know are very valuable and would bring great joy to the public. From Anoushka Shankar to Tinariwen, Gilberto Gil to Beirut, there are so many artists on our lists and with which Norbert is in contact with. We want them all!

More awareness towards the environment, the honesty they have managed to maintain so far and a more efficient way of organizing are among the future objectives of this festival.

We just hope that in the future we can do everything better and closer to the ideal form we envisioned it from the start. We want it to stay as fresh, honest and full of the volunteering vibe, but even more professional and logistically smarter and greener. We want to be more sustainable and create and develop things that will last and be used throughout the year and by the whole civil society, bringing a positive impact in our local environment.

We hope we managed to transmit at least part of the vibe of this festival and the passion of the people behind it. And that you will have the chance to experience the festival on your own skin, because it is truly worth it.

Plai Festival Organizing Team - World Music Festival Romania 2

Plai Festival Organizing Team - World Music Festival Romania

Plai organizing team - World Music Festival in Romania

Photos are courtesy of Plai organizers.