Have you longed to go to a festival that celebrates the diverse cultures of black people from all over the world? How about a festival where you can walk into the vendor’s tent and no one runs to monitor you? How about a festival where the vendors are glad to see you and have things that you can relate to-like paintings of people that look just like you, or music that gets your body moving, and food that is prepared for your taste buds?
How about a festival where you’ll be called brotha and sista as much as you’ll be referred to as sir and madam? How about a festival where the Chicago police are so unneeded they can actually stand around with a legitimate reason for having “nothing to do?”
This weekend at Washington Park for the entire Labor Day weekend, such an event takes place. It’s called the African Festival of the Arts, and it is a festival where I have never seen a single negative incident, major or minor, over the past eight years that I have been going to it. It’s a family-friendly festival for both the young and old. The festival celebrates all the cultures of black people-from the continent to the new world.
Every day, three stages host musical acts. The headline acts include Dazz Band, Con Funk Shun, and the Bar-Kays on Saturday; the Afro-Cuban sounds of Pancho Sanchez, Hugh Masekela, Brothers Johnson and the Mary Jane Girls on Sunday; and Dwele, The Stylistics, and Cameo on Monday.
Why do I like this festival so much? Because it represents for me all the positive aspects of black culture and black consciousness. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in a crowded concert at the event and a comedian came on to the stage. He wasn’t very funny and tried to tell a joke about Black Bs. Immediately, five or six women, including myself, stood up and booed him. He tried to crack on us and instead of the audience laughing and agreeing with him, even more began to boo. The booing continued until he was forced to leave the stage. The comedian had committed a fatal error. He had failed to adjust his comedy for the type of audience he was playing. We were not the group to sit still and take an insult to black women. Nor were we going to lie to ourselves and pretend he “wasn’t talking about us.”
When the show’s host finally quieted the audience down, he tried to defend the comedian’s actions by attempting to explain that the man, a friend of his, didn’t mean to insult us. But we were insulted. The host told us the comedian still wanted to perform his act and asked if we would accept an apology. We would and the man apologized and continued on with his routine.
African Festival of the Arts is also a good place to obtain wonderful arts and crafts. I have several unusual paintings I obtained from the festival-original one-of-a-kind pictures. Many of the vendors travel from all over the country and world to be a part of the festival. One brother uses string to make vivid 3-D renditions of women in African garb.
Of course, African Festival is also a time to check out a lot of different food vendors. The food represents the entire Diaspora of foods from Africa to the Americas. The festival is also a wonderful opportunity to obtain beautiful African garb for the coming Kwanzaa season.
The festival times are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., starting this Friday, Aug. 31, at Washington Park, 51st and Cottage. This year, free parking is also offered at several University of Chicago sites. The festival runs through Monday, Sept. 3. Advance tickets can be found on the West Side at George’s Music Room, 3915 W. Roosevelt, 773/762-8910. Advance tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for children and seniors over 65.