An ocean and a mass of land may separate Thomas and Devaki Thomas from where their heart lies, but that hasn’t stopped them from continuing to bring music to this side of the world.
It’s in the middle of a kekuli, on sacred Syilx (Okanagan) land where the Thomases first started what would become one of the valley’s fastest growing and beloved music festivals — Komasket.
As the festival’s artistic directors, and leaders of well-known dance band Samsara, the couple have spent the last few years organizing Komasket from London, England, where they now live.
Unable to stage the festival this past summer due to personal reasons, they are now ready to return to their old stomping grounds — this time at the Vernon Recreation Centre — to headline the next Komasket dance on New Year’s Eve and to meet with fellow Komasketeers on the future of the festival.
“We’re trying to fit in everything while we are in Vernon over the holidays,” said Devaki. “The show is number one; the second is to reconnect with family and friends, and the third is to get together with the Komasket community to discuss the future of the festival.”
It was Okanagan Indian Band Coun.Mollie Bono who first showed the Thomases Komasket Park on Westside Road, used for powwows and other OKIB events, more than 10 years ago. They all agreed it would be a great venue for Samsara to stage a concert.
The rest, as they say, is history.
From those humble beginnings in 2002, the Komasket Music Festival has grown to welcome both independent and well-known recording artists from around the world.
Thomas recalls 2011 as the year when the festival really made its mark. After the 2010 appearance by Jamaican reggae legends The Wailers, headliners Jon Anderson, of Yes fame, and Canadian icon Buffy St. Marie came to perform on the mainstage.
“We talk about that year a lot,” said Thomas. “Things came right in 2011. It’s where everyone’s attention was and where I think the purity of the festival really showed itself. Things can shift for all the right reasons and I think our lineup, Buffy and Jon, play music for all the right reasons.”
This year started off as an extremely difficult time for the Thomases, with the sudden death of Devaki’s brother Kunja Chatterton. The family needed time to grieve, and so they decided to take this year off from staging the festival and also reassess the future.
“We really missed coming back for Komasket this summer,” said Thomas. “When we started Komasket, it was our way of putting energy back in the community for our family and friends. We tried to express that and to share the experience.”
Talks have already been held with the Okanagan Indian Band to hold this coming year’s festival, and bands are already being booked, although the Thomases are waiting until they hold a meeting with their crew before they make any announcements.
“The talks with the (OKIB) were very positive,” said Devaki. “The land, in our minds, is one of the most positive things about the festival. An understanding came out of the meeting that we want to look into the long-term… We needed to be clear with what we wanted and what they wanted. For trust to build takes time.”
The festival’s intention has always been to show and give respect to the land, especially considering the roots of Komasket Park. In that way, the Thomases and their volunteers have done their best to keep the festival family friendly and keep drugs and alcohol at bay.
“It took some time to come to an understanding. I think the community always honoured where the festival was held, but it took us a while to become part of the community. There is a bond there now. We’ve become part of people’s lives. I didn’t know that was going to happen when we started,” said Devaki.
The New Year’s Eve show, which serves as a fundraiser for the festival, is another way to bring the community together under the warm Komasket banner.
It’s been six years since Samsara played a NYE dance in Vernon, although the band has performed at every Komasket festival since the beginning.
Arguably the first calypso, reggae, soca band to ever come out of the Okanagan, a Vernon gig by Samsara is guaranteed to instill some nostalgia — and frenzied dancing.
The band started playing shows around town starting in the mid-’90s, and earned its reputation as one of Western Canada’s best loved dance bands upon touring the province and beyond, and releasing three well-received albums.
For Samsara’s New Year’s Eve gig, the Thomases will be reuniting with guitarist Walt Musekamp and bassist/keyboardist Jacob Chatterton. The band will also be joined by a special guest for a few songs, who is a well known player in the Shuswap, said Thomas.
“I’ve been working on some new tracks, which is ambitious considering we don’t have a lot of rehearsal time,” he said. “We don’t want to come back and just play old songs.”
Joining Samsara will be Wassabi Duo, an electro-ragga dance band comprised of Melissa M3 (percussionist/singer) and Gisto (guitarist/singer/producer) of Nelson’s well-known dance band Wassabi Collective.
“The duo has a distinctive sound,” said Devaki. “We went on a journey with them when they were in the Wassabi Collective that started in Penticton. We hit the B.C. trail around the same time. We kept crossing paths. Having them here will be a trip back in time.”
Also joining the lineup will be Vancouver-based DJ Timothy Wisdom, whose original productions, mad turntablism, and vocal skills have been earning him hype among culturally conscious hipsters, post-ravers, neo-hippies and social activists.
Wisdom has performed for some of today’s largest festivals, including the Vancouver International Folk Festival, Shambhala, and the infamous Burning Man Festival.
Local artists joining in the festivities are Expression World Music Collective, featuring percussionist Angela Roy who heads this six-piece band that mixes traditional songs from Africa and Acadia with upbeat rhythms.
“The legendary all-ages artistic atmosphere of Komasket dances is popular with Okanagan crowds and the Komasket crew loves hosting events at the Vernon Rec Centre as the sheer space allows for lots of room on the dance floor,” said Devaki. “We are aiming to make New Year’s Eve feel like people have stepped into Komasketville.”
The event will also feature vendors, a cash bar and a silent auction. Doors to the Vernon Recreation Centre auditorium will open at 8 p.m.
Tickets will only be sold in advance and cost $40 (kids 12 and under are free), available at the Ticket Seller (549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca) and the Bean Scene coffee house in Vernon.