by Atim Annette Oton
The 39th Annual International African Arts Festival starts Friday, July 2nd through Monday, July 5th, from 10 :00 am until 9:00 pm, at the spacious Commodore Barry Park, at Park Avenue and Navy Street, Brooklyn, NY 11205. Festival goers will gather each day to enjoy live music, dance, spoken word performances, African marketplace, showcase performances, fashion, and hair shows. Children of all ages can enjoy an exciting childrens program featuring storytelling, clowns, and a youth talent search.
The Festival began in 1971 as a fundraiser for the Uhuru Sasa School-a community based initiative that educated youth and adults about African culture. The fundraiser was a small festival with about 20 arts and crafts vendors, local entertainers, and food prepared by parents. Almost 2,000 people came to the event and the fundraiser was a success. That early format of entertainment, food and market place drew increasing crowds annually and became known as the African Street Carnival. Four years later, the festival and was moved to the field at Boys and Girls High School where it became the African Street Festival.
Today the festival is known as the International African Arts Festival and has an estimated annual audience of 75,000. It is still held in Brooklyn but is now in its third transition to a larger venue to accommodate growing audiences. That original line-up of local folk arts entertainment has also remained but has since been accompanied by artists such as: The Mighty Sparrow, Fela Kuti, KRS-1 and Lauryn Hill; artists who grew out of these traditional arts to achieve national and international acclaim.
The small vendor market has grown to over two hundred micro-enterprise memberships. As the audience grew, our services and reputation also increased and the Festival is now a central part of Brooklyns African arts community. We have presented the works many of local, national and international artists from across the Diaspora. The dance, music and spoken word programs consist of a range of traditions from Yoruba to Rastafarian; art forms from steel bands to gospel choirs; genres from jazz to reggae; and nationalities from Senegalese to Garifuna.
This year’s theme is: Freedom Now - UHURU SASA commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the founding of Uhuru Sasa Shule (Freedom Now School).