At the other end of the spectrum resides Anna Popovic, an engaging young artist from Eastern Europe who in a few short years has captivated the European blues scene with her superb interpretations of some of America’s renowned masters and a melding of blues and jazz.

Both musicians will perform on the Maine coast next weekend at the North Atlantic Blues Festival. A dozen entertainers – from guitar-driven grooves to rousing boogie-woogie keyboards to harmonica-laced gems – will be featured for the 11th anniversary of the popular two-day festival July 10-11 in Rockland.

Organizers said last year’s festival attracted more than 15,000 to the Rockland waterfront.

Mahal, who will close down the festival Sunday evening, is a two-time Grammy Award winner. Few blues artists have done more than Mahal to bring a world view to traditional American blues. His songs are often spiced with the world beats from Africa, the Caribbean and even Hawaii.

The Hawaiian flavor may be at the forefront in Harbor Park as Mahal’s Hula Blues Band will be joining him at the NABF.

Born Henry St. Clair Fredericks, the self-taught musician grew up in Springfield, Mass., and formed his first band while attending college in Boston. The name Taj Mahal came to him in a dream.

After moving to Los Angeles in the mid 1960s, Mahal, 62, teamed up with guitarist Ry Cooder for a couple of years before embarking on his own.

Mahal, who played with masters like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins, came on the scene at roughly the same time that the British invasion arrived in America. The blues-tinged rock from bands like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin helped rejuvenate the careers of the blues legends and launch new artists like Mahal.

After writing the soundtrack to the movie “Sounder,” Mahal began his exploration of world music and its roots. The journey took him to Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. It is a discovery that continues in his current writings.

Yugoslavia seems like an unlikely home for one of blues’ shining young stars, but Popovic’s musical schooling derived from her father’s vast record collection of classic American bluesmen. So when she began her career, singing the blues came naturally to her. Popovic quickly captivated blues fans in Europe; and on a mini tour of the United States last fall, which included a stop at the Time Out Pub in Rockland, she won over American audiences. Her potential was rewarded with a Handy nomination for best new artist.

Besides two days of blues on the waterfront, the North Atlantic Blues Festival also includes the celebrated Club Crawl on Saturday evening, when 15 venues within walking distance in Rockland’s downtown will feature state and regional blues acts free of charge to festival ticket holders.


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