Educating people on how African rhythms have been fused into modern-day jazz music was the theme for this year’s eighth annual African Arts in the Park.
“Pittsburgh is a Jazz town. Each year we hear from our audience and they said they wanted to know how African music was noted in Jazz,” said Darcel Madkins, president and CEO of the UMOJA African Arts Company that presents the African Arts in the Park event each year.
The two-day event was held at Point State Park on Aug. 11 and 12 from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
UMOJA African Arts Company, a non-profit organization, was formed in 1989 to promote the culture of Africa in the United States. It strives to convey universality of art as a bridge between African and American cultures. UMOJA means unity or one in Swahili.
“With events like ours and places like the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, we are able to educate the people and show them how we got from Africa to here. We start from the ground and make our way up,” Madkins said.
In addition to head wrapping, vendor market place, drum making and life-size African puppets, African dancers, and African storytellers, this year’s event featured a culinary component that taught the audience how popular American dishes like gumbo and red beans and rice got their roots in the motherland. Attendees were also able to take a recipe home.
Other highlights of the free-to- the public event included Tim Stevens & the Johnson Project, Roger Humphries & RH Factor, Spirit Filled Ministries, and Ray Ryan Riverside Band on the festival’s main stage.
Sponsors for this year’s event included The Heinz Endowments, City of Pittsburgh, Highmark and the Pittsburgh Foundation.
“Everyone gets something out of it when they come to the event. The African-American has something that is all their own. This is a chance for people to empower themselves and meet other people like them. We have to understand our culture so that we can have an understanding of where we need to go today,” Madkins said. “That we are not a part of the problem, we are part of the solution.”
African Arts in the Park started eight years ago in Schenley Park with about 2,000 people in attendance. The event has grown immensely over the years and has recently been held at Point State Park with between 5,000 to 7,000 people attending annually.
“We realized that there wasn’t anywhere for African arts groups to perform. The event is a success because the attendees, sponsors and the City of Pittsburgh realize how valuable this is to the city and the people in it,” Madkins said.