The Death of African Marketplace and the Birth of Leimert Park Village African Art & Music Festival


Art drawing courtesy of Aziz Diagne

The festival has been on for so many years with lots of African cultural heritage, fanfare and some good, good stuff to promote botany from motherland with the ideal the origin of man began from the African continent, from the passing of Homo Erectus to Homo Sapiens, the modern man, as scientific anthropological evidence had it.

For the past 12 years or so, I have never missed any of the events, and, I have encouraged others to keep up with worthy nature by paying homage every year to the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire which ends all summer events, sort of, normally on Labor Day.

From the playgrounds and fields of Rancho La Cienega Park and Dorsey High School to the umiversity village of Exposition Park where the Los Angeles Sports Arena and Colliseum sits -- all on the academic landscape of USC; the carnival had been home to African Marketplace and Cultural Faire, moving from location to location over the years.

The talk had gone on for months coupled with the uncertainties of an economy gone bad nobody knew what the organizers of a model Orie Amigwe, the typical marketplace in motherland every commodity is bagained for. The African Marketplace had the same resemblance of Orie Amigwe in post-Nigeria-Biafra Civil War era.

But something had happened and the organizers, this year, decided to call it quits, blaming a bad economy and the city's budget shortcomings for its woes. What has a bad economy got to do with culture and especially when race is still a factor in America? Why would the organizers turn the other way when African-Americans are desperately eager to know more about the African culture and traditions which has never been part but always an entity? So what's going on, and why are the vendors and merchants who'd played a significant role in these events not asking questions? Probings like "we demand to know what's going on and what happened to the funding by the city and other big corporations to keep our cultural heritage on the shores of this land viable and intact."

"Nothing spoil," as some folks would lament in fractured English indicating "that's life" and life goes on, no matter which ever way one looks at it even as we keep losing base as a people who did come a long way.

As it happened, the death of African Marketplace and Cultural Faire ushered in the Ist Annual Leimert Park Village African Art and Music Festival sponsored in part by 8th District Council Member Bernard C. Parks, Community Build, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and KJLH 102.3 FM. KJLH is owned by Stevie Wonder.

In a move to bring Leimert Park back to life as a tourist center and a culturally-based entity, Senegalese-born artist Aziz Diagne took the humble task of putting a whole lot into perspective and in conjunction with Sika and Jackie Ryan who represents Leimert Park Village Association and advocates for the merchants causes, had African art and vibes brought back to leimert Park Village over the Labor Day weekend.

From September 5 through the 7th, Degnan Boulevard, 43rd Street and 43rd Place was turned into the Orie Amigwe hub of Black Township, stretching all along the Crenshaw thoroughfare in Los Angeles. There's the World Stage Performance Gallery, home to jam sessions, jazz lessons and scholarship. There's Kumasi Gift Shop, home to the Nana Prempehs, Komfo Anokyes, the golden stool, Frafra gears and Kente fabrics. There's African Heritage and Antique Collection Gallery, home of original African fine arts, prints, lithographs, African beads of Antiquity, old tribal arts, okwa mkpuru, masks -- Tuareg outfits, mud clothes from Mali, babariga and Igbo traditional clothings. There's Papa West Breakfast Club and casts of blues and jazzy-funk performances. There's the Zambezi Bazaar, known for its authentic African accessories, ethno-cultural books and numerous African artifacts. There's Sika and uncountable collection of jazz music and other African-related products.

On the westside of Degnan Bl. sits Fine Arts Gallery Plus, Eso Won Books, Heroik Entertainment, Africa By The Yard, New Orleans Vieux Carre Creole Cuisine where tasty sea foods and Big Easy dishes are found. Strolling down further sits Adassa's Island Cafe & Entertainment and Ackee Bamboo Jamaican Restaurant run by the energetic Marlene Beckford.

On 43rd Street sits Lucy Florence Art Gallery, Academy of Martial Arts, Gaynale Beauty Salon, Tip O Nail, Regency West, Philip's BBQ and Mary's Salon.

On 43rd Place sits Klub Kaos, the decaying and abandoned Vision Theatre, Eugene's Creative Designs, Studio 3345, O' So juicy N' Tasty Burgers, Leimert Park, New Star Beauty Supply, The Herb and Vitamin Center, 3H beauty and Universal College of beauty.

I had thought the launching of Leimert Park Village African Arts Festival might have some hiccups since I wasn't familiar with the organizers and what they had been up to. But I did talk to Diagne from time to time as the planning unfolded, and, eventually, the show was a success with an amazing turnout. Though with some hiccups due to lack of proper funding, I was able to talk to one of the organizers, Jackie Ryan, who runs Zambezi Bazaar with her brother and sister, Mary Kimbrough. Ms. Ryan who had been trading in Leimert Park the last fiteen years said the event was "culturally good, and economically could be better," insinuating an outrageous real estate and the highly overrated properties on the complex which made it difficult for people to sustain" especially the merchants who could barely meet up with a staggering high rent, suggesting rent in the community shouldn't be more than $500 and not the thousands of dollars collected by the property managers and landlords. "That would be just and fair," Ms. Ryan said and concluding, the community from her observations has sustained their businesses through its "loyal customer and cultural base."

According to Ryan, the event was independently produced with the city helping in providing "certain things like stage, chairs and tables." She applauded KJLH for its enormous contribution acknowledging "everybody helped, everybody was creative and everybody who worked on the committee was wonderful. We did it ourselves; there were no banks, no big funding -- we just had our own treasures so we don't have to borrow from anybody."

She also used the opportunity in our chat to thank the Los Angeles Sentinel for being very supportive by way of distributing over 30,000 flyers and postcards. "The volunteers were helpful for putting in their immesureable time for the event's success and there is hope there will be a commemoration of the event, come next year."

It seemed almost impossible to take the organizers seriously because of the timeframe on the sudden absence of the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire. The city had no value for cultural events and Ms. Ryan and her colleagues had no choice but to pull the bull by the horn in order to get things done. It worked and I think a 2nd annual event is very likely to hold based on the success of the opening shot.

Talk about the jam sessions. The stage at the carnival was explosive with performances by Azar Lawrence, Medusa, Wadada, Dwight Trible, Steel Fusion Musik, Walli Ali, Phil Ranelin, Andre Russell of LTD and World Stage Sextet. Lawrence, we all know had been around and had played alongside Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner in the 60s. There was also storytelling, spoken word, dancing, fashion shows, food courts and lots of people happy to see Africa come alive in Leimert Park.

Everyone I talked to seems to agree that the organizers, Leimert Park Merchant Association, took a bold step in not letting the uniqueness of African culture disappear in Los Angeles on the absence of African Marketplace and Cutural Faire. And many who came said they loved it and would come back again. Maxie Viltz who runs African Imports Village Treasures on Linden Avenue in Long Beach and who had invited me to stop by her shop and "check things out" said she enjoyed the three day show and liked what she saw, particularly the artifacts and okwa mkpuru, the masks displayed at the African Heritage & Antique Gallery owned by UC Bekerley trained criminologist turned trader, Obinne Emmanuel Onyeador. I also had spent enough time with Valeri Adams whose Help U Sell Resale program did some brisk business in front of Papa West Breakfast Club. Business was generally good and the merchants smiled all the way to the bank.

Harold Lott, who makes and fixes traditional handdrums in the community alternatively pointed out that the show was brilliantly well done, and that the community needs to keep up with working collectively towards achieving its goal of bringing everybody together, citing Community Build which helps young people in the community. Onyeador, who had earlier sold James Currey's "Africa Writes Back: The Africa Writers Series and the Launching of African Literature" to visiting University of Manchester students Laura and Josephine, said "the show wasn't bad at all," meaning brisk business was made considering the bad economy.

Enter researcher Gloria martinez who is working on a project regarding the 70s ragtag clothings told me she never expected the turnout to be that huge. She had bought some Michael Jackson t-shirts and beads down the street before bumping into me at the event. The best part of the event was the little corner between Papa West and African Heritage where my homies -- Kalu ezikpe, Obi Onyeador, Kenny Oriyomi, Ogbonna Nkelu and several other homeboys -- had gathered and discussed matters of interest related to the nasty politics of the day commonly found on the continent of Africa. Besides, the hangout was an event to remember.

Al in all, the festival was a remarkable success.


Uno said…
This is pointblank. kudos!
Anonymous said…
Ain't nothing but politics being played out here. They got everybody cornered and ain't nothing real.
Ardis said…
You are right about that, my man
Ebere said…
I hear you!
Gil said…
You did not add Ndugu to the line up...everybody at Leimert Park knows Ndugu.
Natasha said…
I love seeing my African brothers and sisters coming together. That was awesome.
Janay said…
Thanks for this write-up. By the way are we going to see more of this in the near future?
Cornel said…
Great article and people need to know about all these things.
Su Papra said…
I was there and I liked it. Everybody was just friendly.
Joe said…
You got it all wrapped up. A masterpiece!
Anonymous said…
I didn't know organizers of African Marketplace gave it up after over twenty years. Something must be wrong.
Ambrose Ehirim said…

it's a brand new day, just stick around following a new post.
Anonymous said…
preciate this writeup. Thanks.