3-day festival shares African culture with the community
R&B, neo-soul and jazz artist Rajdulari crooned as she swayed in rhythm with the live band playing behind her on the Kuumba Stage on Saturday at City Park.
Kuumba means creativity in Swahili and that is what the Colorado Black Arts Festival is all about. The festival celebrated its 31st year with the theme “Art In Motion.”
The annual Boogaloo parade proceeded through the park and the fervor of parade participants emanated throughout the spectators who shook, shimmied and shouted in approval of drill and drum teams, youth and civic groups and colorful floats.
Florence Ayers is the interim executive director and director of development for Colorado Celebration of African American Arts and Culture. She said that Boogaloo is a dance that originated back in the 1970s.
“There’s that song “Boogaloo Down Broadway,” but the idea was made popular back in the ’70s,” she said. “I know it to mean “a dance that the kids made up.” We coined the term to signify it’s a performance. Ours involved a lot of drums, drill teams, tumblers and people just out performing.”
Denver native Ron Ivory, music coordinator for the main stage and 50-year musician, has attended the event since its inception and said that the theme is meant to inspire sponsors and vendors to take this year’s festival to the next level.
“The people, the spirit of it, the opportunity to celebrate and honor African and African American culture through art,” he said. “Visually, musically and through movement to elevate people through experience.”
Ivory is also the lead singer of Ron Ivory and The Miles Apart band, which will close out the musical show on Sunday.
The bold and rich artististry of the African diaspora flowed through the “watu-sakoni” people’s marketplace in abundance. Bright colors and patterns jumped out from vendor booths in the forms of dresses, head wraps, paintings, jewelry and other wares.
Much of the merchandise is inspired from the African continent and West Africa in particular, Ayers said.
Angela McClellan, a first time vendor who would otherwise only sell her art from Facebook, was able to display large colorful portraits of her own design. Iconic faces like Michael Jackson, Biggie and Amy Winehouse stared back at patrons.
“Eyes are the window to the soul. I always start with the eyes,” said McClellan who also shared her personal stories through her art. Not all of her pieces were personally significant to her, but some were.
“Her subsequent death helped me quit drinking,” said McClellan of Winehouse. “I’m six years sober.”
Her pieces are created with acrylic paint, ebony pencils and colored ink. Each one takes roughly 16 hours to make and she donates one each year to a different building around Denver.
“I sit on the floor in my living room and create,” she said. “I can’t afford a studio so I sit under my swamp cooler where I’m comfortable. It’s helped me to get through some things, like my divorce.”
The Opalanga D. Pugh Children’s Pavilion for Art and Learning makes the festival a family friendly event each year.
Chessa Hallman ran the pavilion and said that every year the booth’s aim is to have arts and learning that carry a black or African cultural reference that the kids can also take home with them at the end of the day. This year’s activity was painting mud cloth and tie-dying t-shirts.
“Mud cloth is traditionally dipped in mud and used like a burlap and functions as decorative panels to cover furniture, floors and the sides of huts,” she said. “The graphic lines and circles they would paint on them are significant to each individual tribe or nation, showing who your family is.”
Hallman said that each year the pavilion creates a different activity that the families can enjoy together for free and then take their artwork home. The materials are funded by local schools, libraries and non-profits.
Each year they also give young entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase and sell their artwork. Ten-year-old Jzunie Jones and 11-year-old Thandiwe Manyothwane created placemats, paintings, and pots decorated with Ndebele art, which originated in South Africa from the Ndebele people’s house paintings. The art ranged anywhere from $1 to $65.
“Most of our art we were inspired to make to motivate people,” Manyothwane said. “I also want people to see what art from South Africa looks like and show the beauty in the world.”
Jones is Kenyan and Manyothwane is South African and they are both aspiring artist who hope to earn money to continue creating art which promotes positive messages.
“My placemats resemble Africa and give positive messages like love and be yourself,” said Jones. “I make mats for people who are depressed so I can show people that there is color in the world, you just have to look for it.”
The Joda Village was also a place for youth groups to showcase their abilities and mingle with the community. Groups like the Marching Saints, East High School cheer team and the Mile High Tumblers 5280 truly put on a show.
Orzell Williams is the founder of the tumbling organization and first year head coach for the cheer team.
“Through tumbling I can help make them into people who aren’t robots,” Williams said of the kids. “Through positivity and encouragement I hope to help fuel them so the don’t become lost.”
The last, but never least, anchor to each year’s festival is the food court, which provides food for every palate. Vendors provide cuisine from the American South, the African continent and the Caribbean as well as American favorites.
There was also a booth from the 100 Men Who Cook organization serving up free platter of an Ethiopian dish. Ingara bread and curried carrots and cabbage, called tikel gomen, is a dish that many Africans eat during fasting when they give up meat.
Though the event has grown in recent years, it hasn’t reached its former glory when it amassed an audience of 60,000 in 2009. Ayers said the event would probably see attendance of close to 15,000 for Saturday and close to that Sunday.
Linn Sudduth, a Denver native said she came specifically to see The Hendersons perform and wasn’t disappointed.
“In times like this, when it’s crazy in the world, it’s good to be able to relax and continue to good music with no drama,” she said. “I think they have it covered. I will definitely be back.”
Transplants to Denver like Andrew Tarlton from Wisconsin may be the answer to boosting the events patronage beyond seasoned attendees. He’s been in Denver a year and found the event on Facebook.
“I looked up free events in Denver and found this so I biked over here,” he said. “I like all sorts of music and the art is really cool.”