Besides celebrating our country’s independence during the July 4th weekend, the date also marks the 40th year of the International African Arts Festival.
The event is a four-day festival slated to start at 10 am Friday, July 1st at Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene. More than 75,000 people are expected to attend this year.
The festival is known for bringing awareness for African Diaspora culture. It started as an “end of year” celebration in 1971. Back then it was hosted in conjunction with the independently run Uhuru SaSa school, which at that time was one of the largest African-American schools.
“It was a collective effort. It wasn’t just one person. A number of brothers and sisters were involved,” said Basir Mchawi, one of the festival founders.
They also created it with members from a Brooklyn organization called EAST. The organization still has active members in the community, Mchawi noted.
Originally called the “African Street Carnival”, it started more like a large block party on Claver Place.
The festival eventually grew and organizers changed locations to Boys and Girls High School. When the high school began renovations to their athletic field the festival was moved temporarily to Fulton Street.
The festival has been held at its current location for about eight years. Each year it has a different theme and this year is no different.
The current theme is Arobiani, Swahili. There will also be several tributes for people instrumental in spreading African culture such as Chief Bey, an African folklorist and percussionist; Nana Dinizulu and African culturalist Baba Ishangi. There will also be a tribute to Gil Scott- Heron, who performed at the festival in the past.
Mchawi said the festival is like an economic incubator. Several local businesses got their first start as vendors. This includes Moshood, Carol’s Daughter and Calabar.
Longtime vendor William Fleet, designer of TBA Clothing in Clinton Hill, agreed. “We always get new vendors because there are people who believe.”