LEIMERT PARK — With summer officially winding down, the annual Leimert Park Village African Art & Music Festival was a great rallying cry of music, arts and community-bonding for locals.
As the music turned up, so did the festival and the attraction of patrons, vendors and artists looking to be part of a festive atmosphere. Host of the three-day event, Ramona Stephens, said this is what the community is about.
“It’s free, it’s very informative, it’s entertaining, it gives exposure to people with live instruments and different cultures that they won’t see anywhere else,” Stephens said. “Since this is a real artist festival, that means you have things that are hand-made artifacts, African jewelry, statues. … It’s just beautiful. I’ve been doing this for about six or seven years, and it’s amazing. I learn something every year.”
Being from the South, Stephens said when she relocated to Southern California, the aura of the Leimert Park community made her feel right at home. It is is how she got her introduction to the arts and music festival.
“Being from Georgia, not having any roots in Los Angeles, Leimert Park was where I found my family,” Stephens said. “It’s where I came and everyone welcomed me and loved on me.
“As a new artist, I just kept coming and coming, and one year they asked me to host the festival. They said I never changed. I kept the same personality, the same attitude, the same spirit. There was something about me that they wanted to be part of the festival.”
Stephens showcased that personality as she mingled and danced with the locals and offered plenty of comedic barbs to the sitting audience, who were patiently waiting and hoping to listen to some good music on Labor Day.
From the sounds of things, those in the audience received a healthy dose of good music from the group Ali Ali, which performed a laundry list of memorable songs by Marvin Gaye, KC & The Sunshine Band, Rick James and others.
If the funk turned up by Ali Ali was too much thunder to take in, the stillness of quiet jazz presented by Dadisi Komolafe was enough to keep you tuned in for a good show. Other artists like Rastakura performed as well.
The real show, however, was being conducted by vendors displaying their cultural artistry. Luke Angel, who is the director of African Angel Tours, has been making his way to California from South Africa for over two decades, selling African arts and crafts. Angel said the festival has been a bedrock for the community.
“This festival was a cornerstone of the community for many years,” Angel said. “We did the African Marketplace for many, many decades. Then it closed and moved to Exposition Park. We went there, and then it went back to Dorsey (High School). Then it closed and didn’t re-emerge until seven years ago as the Leimert Park Village (African Arts & Music Festival). It wasn’t on last year, and now it’s on this year.
“So a lot of people were confused if it was on or off. Hopefully, if they can sustain it and have it again next year, the attendance would be much bigger because people will know it’s on. We used to have thousands of people down here.”
Hyacinth McLeod, who was out promoting her Friendship Frames, said that besides it being a free entertainment and arts event, this type of festival is something that does a lot of good.
“The community needs this,” McLeod said. “Just seeing it continue. … We need to carry on this legacy. The best thing is just coming out and seeing people come together for the community, sharing their wares, supporting the seven principles of Kwanza. You really get to see that expressed.”