Featuring a weird mix of postmodern colonialism, Suriname music and soft drugs, Amsterdam Roots is a free experience at the heart of Amsterdam. Bob your head along with the bassy tempo while you wonder about the border between ethnic celebration and cultural appropriation - for this is Dutchlandia at its best.
This sunday, the one and only Mr. Dam swung by the eagerly anticipated Roots festival, and briefly enjoyed some catchy tunes before being whisked away for yet another beer.
What's in a name? Amsterdam Roots is a week-long free festival, featuring music from all over the world. It has been held since 1983 (under the name Africa Roots Festival), sponsored by the Tropenmuseum as well as a lot of Dutch cultural funds - which makes it possible for the Amsterdam Municipality to hold a moderately-sized festival alive without charging an entrance fee.
It is a pretty fun experience to behold, despite there being an obvious commercial component at play - which is especially jarring for a free festival with a clear cultural heritage branding.
Like it or not, Roots is choke-full of 'ethnic' food stands - featuring an eclectic mix of Suriname food, Belgian fries and American burgers - I guess the common theme is being an ex-East India Company colony. Aside from the food you can buy pretty much anything you'd find at an alternative festival - including incense sticks, dreamcatchers and bead bracelets. Oh, globalization!
The crowd that this festival attracts is, as one could imagine, pretty varied. There's a few people with deep roots into the cultures on display, including full families; but also plenty of tourists (including yours truly), lots of 21st century hippies, and, of course, plenty of drug dealers. After all, as Say's law goes - "Supply creates its own demand"!
But if you forget the ripe-smelling hippies and wannabe fils-a-papa looking for an afternoon of Instagram-fueled wild tripping, the festival does exactly what it's designed for.
Indeed, Amsterdam Roots succeeds in bringing people together, dancing to music and tunes that would otherwise be forgotten on this side of the world - drowned out by yet another overproduced Camila Cabelo summer single.
And while it's easy to sneer at the (many) potential instances of cultural appropriation, in the end I feel giving cultures a platform is what matters here.
And yes, maybe this kind of 'ethnic' festivals are a flawed platform. Yes, they reduce brilliant, centuries-old cultures to a caricature of themselves. But they also give these cultures the ability to bring people together - once more - enjoying the sun, the music, the beers, and of course, each other's company.
And for that we should be grateful.