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Breath of Afrika 2
The annual festival expands its vision
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
“Community is a very ephemeral word right now,” explains Ketu Oladuwa, director and founder of the Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Arts and Culture (TRIAAC). “It doesn’t have much meaning, except theoretically. But community needs a place to be. It needs an anchor. That’s what we’re trying to do: revitalize that sense of community.”
Oladuwa, perhaps best known in the city for his work with the Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble, is explaining part of the philosophy behind Breath of Afrika 2, TRIAAC’s second arts and music festival happening Saturday, September 18 at the corner of Douglas Avenue and Clay Street (there’s also a film festival taking place the next day at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art).
That’s the philosophy behind the Breath of Africa Festival, and we’ll hear a little more of that in a moment…
But first and foremost, Breath of Afrika is a festival and a celebration, and as any of the 1200+ people who attended last year’s inaugural Breath of Afrika Festival can attest, the event is a great time, with a diverse line up of local and “outside” talent performing a range of African-based music and dance. The main stage this year plays host to blues/R&B artist Carol Lockridge; jazz with the Larry Ford Trio; and spoken word and comedy with Art & Soul of the City.
Two big acts close out the main stage Saturday night — Timbalaye!, a Chicago-based group that performs various African influenced music from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and other Afro-Latin traditions; and the award-winning Roots Rock Society, also from Chicago. Roots Rock delves deep into reggae, calypso, soul, zouk and other rhythms of the African Diaspora. The Roots Rock Society won “Best Calypso/Soul” ensemble at the 28th Annual Chicago Music Awards in 2008, and founder Stan Champion started his recording career at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica in 1980 and Curtis Mayfield’s Custom studios in Chicago in 1981.
Performers on the Community Stage include the Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble, the American Legion Step-A-Phonics dance troupe; the Diane Rogers Dancers; Fort Wayne Children’s Choir; the Weisser Park Drummers; and more…
But in addition to the great music and entertainment, this year’s Breath of Afrika festival is also offering a little history. TRIAAC teamed up with ARCH, the Fort Wayne Historical Society, and the Genealogy Society to conduct bus tours of the East Central neighborhood — an historic district that’s basically had all the history knocked out of it. The festival is dedicated to William Warfield, a black entrepreneur who owned a lot of property in the area in the early 20th century. Clydia Early, the project coordinator for Breath of Afrika, says people are usually surprised by what the neighborhood used to be. “There used to be hotels here, doctor’s offices, pharmacies, a big grocery,” she says.
“When the entertainers came to town, this is the area they would stay, because they couldn’t stay in the bigger hotels downtown,” adds Oladuwa. “So this is part of the historical district, though many of the buildings have been razed.”
Indeed, when “urban renewal” hit downtown several decades ago, a big part of the East Central neighborhood was renewed right out of existence. Oladuwa says that’s one of the reasons the Breath of Afrika Festival is held in the area, right next to the African American Historical Museum on Clay street. “We are an integral part of the community, and we are intent in being part of the development of downtown Fort Wayne,” he explains. “We don’t want to see the African-American Historical Museum renewed someplace else. People can relate to the African American Historical Museum being in that place, because it’s been in that place and it’s been used by people in this community for decades.”
On Sunday, the Breath of Afrika continues with the “Voices from the Motherland” film festival at the Fort Wayne Museum of Art. It starts off with a short, Rapaille, about the underground rap scene in France. The title, Oladuwa explains, comes from an insult French President Sarkozy hurled at the immigrant population of Paris during riots there several years ago; it means “scum” or “rabble.” “They turned that slam to their advantage,” says Oladuwa.
Retour a Goree tells about Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour’s concert on Goree island — one of the most infamous landmarks in the history of slavery. Youssour N’Dour brings together jazz artists from America and Europe for the concert in an attempt to show how African music has been transformed as it moved to different places.
Finally, the highly-acclaimed Daughters of the Dust tells the story of three generations of African American women on the Georgia Islands at the turn of the 20th century. “The Georgia sea islands holds some of the foremost leavings of African culture that there are on the U.S.,” Oladuwa says. “They’re a critical place for anybody who is interested in what happened to these people in their transition to being Americans.”
Oladuwa, who founded TRIAAC in 2007 as a sort of umbrella for the different projects and events he’s been involved in during his 25+ years in Fort Wayne, says one of the larger ideas behind the Breath of Africa Festival is to underscore the place or role African culture has played — and most importantly can play — in the community. And Oladuwa isn’t just talking philosophically; one of his constant themes is that culture is good for business. “It’s all about business,” he says. “If you talk to people downtown, if you talk to people in government, they don’t want to hear philosophy, they want to hear about business. How is this going to make money for us? It’s a legitimate question. Bringing people of African descent, and people who are interested in culture as representative of Africa and its diaspora, to Fort Wayne from Chicago, Ohio, Louisville, from the Quad city region… is good for business.”
Admission is FREE
Both TRIAAC and the Breath of Africa Festival are on Facebook.
You can also check them out on Twitter and YouTube.
The Breath of Africa Festival is sponsored by the Downtown Improvement District; AEP; Cap n’ Cork; D.O. McComb and Sons Funeral Home; the Lotus Gallery; the African American Historical Museum; Summit City Electric; and Friendship Baptist Church.
A Breath of Africa
11 AM – 9PM
3-4 PM — Larry Ford Trio
5-6:30 PM — Art & Soul of the City
7:30- 9:00 PM — Roots Rock Society
1:15-1:45 PM — The Step-A-Phonics
2:00-2:30 PM — Weisser Park Drummers
4:15-4:45 PM — Fort Wayne Children’s Choir
6:45-7:15 PM — Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble
Voices from the Motherland Film Festival
Sunday, September 19
12:00 — 5:00 PM
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art
12:15 PM — Rapaille
1:00 PM — Retour a Goree
3:00 PM — Daughters of the Dust
Admission is $5 ($3 for students & seniors 65+).
Tickets go on sale September 17 at TRIAAC from 1:00 – 6:00 pm (501 E. Brackenridge St.) or at the door (FWMoA) on the day of the event.