International African Arts Festival this weekend
Jasmin K. Williams | 4/12/2011, 5:27 p.m.
African divas Somi and Lorraine Klaasen, along with Steve Kroon and Eric Roberson, will headline the 39th annual International African Arts Festival that kicks off this Friday, July 2 and runs through Monday, July 5 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The festivities will take place at the Commodore Barry Park at Park Avenue and Navy Street in Brooklyn.
Rwandan vocalist Somi takes the stage on July 2. South African vocalist Lorraine Klaasen performs on July 4. Both singers, while popular in their homeland, are now becoming familiar with American audiences.
Latin jazz percussionist Steve Kroon appears in July 3. Kroon performed with Luther Vandross for more than two decades and has recorded with Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack, among others.
R&B crooner Eric Roberson performs on July 5. Described as the "face of the independent soul movement," Roberson has a solid and loyal legion of fans.
Mixed in with great music, food, fashion and a hair show and African marketplace is the Black Inventions Exhibit and the Green Pavilion, featuring a host of green businesses.
International African Arts Festival began as the African Street Carnival and later grew into the African Street Festival. What started as a school fundraising initiative is now one of the oldest and longest-running African cultural arts festivals in the country.
This year's festival theme is Uhuru Sasa (Freedon Now). The festival will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Uhuru Sasa Shule (Freedom Now School), one of the largest independent African-American schools in the country. The festival will also pay tribute to Brother Atiba Coard, who was the environmental engineer for the International African Arts Festival. Coard passed away shortly after last year's event.
The International African Arts Festival has been a launching pad for many of the artists who have graced its stage. Past festivals have been headlined by such renowned talents as Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the Fugees, Eddie Palmieri, India.Arie, Gil Scott-Heron, Sun Ra, Morgan's Heritage, Vanessa Rubin and Tania Maria, to name a few.
It's a wonderful way to enjoy a day of food, music and culture with family, friends and community.
"The foundation of this festival is economic empowerment," said Julia Shaw, a festival organizer since 1992.
"The festival has helped launch successful African-American businesses. It's a platform for business in the community to put them in front of a large audience. Carol's Daughter used to vend at the festival. Nubian Heritage also used to vend. Their products are now available at Macy's.
"It's also a forum for aspiring artists to be on a program with seasoned entertainers and build a fan base. It's a place where you can get information. We have partnerships with other organizations. It's about non-profit organizations coming together and helping each other to thrive. Generations of people have an opportunity to be a part of this. Three generations of my family have attended this festival. My children and grandchildren now come to this," Shaw said.
For more on this year's festival visit www.iaafestival.org or call (718) 638-6700.