The 23rd African Festival of the Arts, located in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago is the largest neighborhood festival in Chicago. The festival is adjacent to the Jean Baptist DuSable Museum in Washington Park. Born in Haiti, Jean Pointe Baptiste DuSable is considered to be the first non-Indian settler in Chicago. The DuSable Museum is devoted to the “caretaking” of African-American culture.
A condensed African Diaspora, the festival contained a panoply of vendor stalls where they sold everything from clothes from Africa and India, to beaded and other African jewelry, to woven baskets, to raffia animals, to African drums, to handmade perfumes, oils and soaps. Shea butter could be bought at almost every stall. The vendors had traveled to Chicago from all over the country. Most hailed from a variety of African countries including Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa, among others. One of the most unique vendors was the Needle and Threads Quilters whose group, based in Chicago, numbered over one hundred members. They were selling a colorful assortment of abstract and representational quilts, some of which had African themes.
A section of the Festival grounds named Nubian Village was dedicated to fine artists, jewelers and artists who created unique, wearable art. Jeffrey (Obafemi) Williams’ detailed, stunning brass, copper and aluminum based works included a stunning copper-based leaf necklace, as well as a striking three-dimensional wall hanging of a profile of a woman with long hair extensions. The profile was attached to a large square base composed of copper.
The Festival also included several interactive environments including a children’s activity tent, a drum circle where festival attendees were invited to join in and rhythmic, line-dancing classes accompanied by Hip Hop music, taught by Urban Soul Line Dancing. The steps were simple enough that the dancing drew participants both young and old.
The food booths served a plethora of African and Caribbean fare including jerk chicken, beans and rice, plantains, greens and goat meat. A particularly popular drink vendor made fresh fruit smoothies with mango, passion fruit, coconuts, strawberries and other exotic fruits that were served in coconut shells.
The Main Stage, which presented a variety of music and dance groups, including Samba 1, a Brazilian dance group, Dwele and Lyfe Jennings, to name a few. The highlight of the weekend was George Clinton, one of the grandfathers of funk. He played with the Parliament Funkadelics whom he had been working with since the early ’70s. Their cool, electric, percussive rhythms got the audience on their feet, dancing and singing along to some of the more well known songs.
A sobering moment during the festival occurred when the Stop the Violence group paraded through the festival reminding the crowd that Chicago has the largest number of gangs in the United States and we all must collaborate to put an end to the violence. At the Peace Village, some of the youths who had participated in the Stop the Violence arch expressed what they viewed the adults could do in helping to stop the violence. The youths’ answers varied from “wiping the stereotypes away.” to “getting more involved in their communities,” to “acknowledge when the kids were making positive changes.”