Joyous Festivities and Merry-Making at the 2008 African Marketplace Festival in Los Angeles

by Ambrose Ehirim

It was a weekend of a two weeks event which climaxed the Summer and folks from all walks of life had trooped in to get a feel of motherland Africa which has been since its inception -- the stuff of life and a great stuff of African cultural heritage. It is, in fact, the stuff of great literature.

Once more, the event took me aback to the days of Orie Amigwe, the once notable marketplace for second hand clothes, produce from organics, poking around and bargains for better deals haggling for money and things like that when a plundered and demolished Igbo nation had begun to start life anew after Yakubu Gowon's-led Genocidal campaign against a desperately starved Igbo children including infants and women.

But somehow the 2008 African Marketplace and Cultural Faire was a unique event considering an economy that has gone so bad and people are still happy at a time of going through the pains of hopelessness was very obvious. Sitting on the playgrounds of Dorsey High School in Los Angeles, there were bargains and selling and trading of artifacts from all cultural backgrounds in Africa.

I took a tour and talked to several people including merchants who had paid over a thousand bucks for a booth. And some of the booths so small one will be wondering the purpose of trying to make a brisk business in these hardtimes of an economy completely destroyed by the Bush-Cheney administration.

America is still a great country and the pains of economic hardship does not stop an outgoing public from having fun and moving on to do the best out of a very bad situation never mind what the Bush administration did fighting a not relevant war in Iraq resulting to America losing its value as an empire after Ronald Reagan dismantled the Soviet bloc. I guess empires come and go. So they say.

I had thought the Bush era had destroyed this country in its entirety in terms of commerce until I walked in to the carnival which had the same resemblance of Woodstock reflecting the 60s hippies and the outfits unveiled by the legendary Jimi Hendrix when pot-smoking was seen as a normal thing in an era of rage against the establishment.

Founded twenty three years ago by James Burks, the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire has become one of the best organized forums where you can feel mother nature Africa. A whole lot was on display and whether you were just window shopping, bargaining or selling one item or the other, and you are a merchant making a brisk business and the faces of Africa all in your face, the African Marketplace is just home.

On the eastside of the facility Nigerians and their neigbors tapped leather while the tennis courts around the corner was open to all and sundry. The swimming pool on the southside was full to capacity due to the Summer heat and all that summer jams flowing from the Balkanized forums where trade by barter and complete bargains took its course.

The forum had all sorts of African related restaurants serving African traditional dishes. The ginger root beer and jollof rice coupled with fried plantain sold by one Sierra Leonean lady had customers lick their fingers, perhaps an indication the food was really tasty. I would rather recommend a Michelin Star to the owner of Stone Market and Restaurants who has served the African and Caribbean communities in Los Angeles for many years now and whose stand at the festival had a very long line noted for its cowfoot soup, a combination of seasoned curry goat, ox tail and rice. There were no Nigerian food stands for consumption of isi ewu, nri ji, amala, ngwo ngwo and things like that in a festival every culture represented.

Stone Market and Restaurants was the real deal among the restaurant chains which sat on the southwest corner. Smiling all the time and speaking with an accent that immediately reveals his Jamaican origin, Stone has shown how being consistent and persistent pays off in the long run.

Leaving the restaurant zone takes you to the arena where all kinds of music pops up. I bumped to an arena where jazz was the theme and we had formed a circle to discuss jazz and its scholarship. We talked about the days of Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter when Weather Report had created a theme that left a mark in modern jazz. We talked about the Modern Jazz Quartet, Lee Morgan, Coleman Hawkins, David "Fathead" Newman and the days of the Village Vanguard Concerts. We talked about the Kudu years when Creed Taylor had assembled jazz greats Johnny Hammond, Grover Washington Jr., Hank Crawford, Eric Gale, Billy Cobham, McCoy Tyner, George Benson which came to be known as the cross over era.

It was real fun and a fantastic way to end the Summer when reggae great Gregory Isaacs closed the show with that hell of a smash hit called "Night Nurse" which vibed from the stage and everybody sang along:

Tell her try her best to make it quick
Woman tend to the sick
Because there must be something she can do

This heart is broken in two
Tell her it's a case of emergency
There is a patient by the name of Gregory

Night nurse
Only you can quench this here thirst
My night nurse
Oh God oh the pain is getting worse...

If you missed it this year keep your head because next year is just around the corner and time flies by, remember?