Singer Une performing at the Leimert Park Village African Art and Music Festival

*Los Angeles – Leimert Park Village was the place to be this past Labor Day weekend. Mother nature provided a soothing air condition for the thousands of people who ventured thru Leimert Park Village Labor Day Weekend.

The Leimert Park Group organized this extraordinary end of Summer Block Party with the theme “Family Values.”

A multi-cultural crowd enjoyed the plethora of events offered during the 3rd Annual Leimert Park Village African Art and Music Festival, September 3rd-5th, 2011, where else, in Historic Leimert Park Village aka “the Harlem of the West Coast.”

Comedienne Ramona Stephens was the perfect person to serve as Mistress of Ceremonies. She shared some hilarious jokes that had us all laughing until our sides hurt. While walking around the festival grounds or sitting, I kept over hearing people say “how good she is as a comedienne and host.” You can bet that we will be seeing her around Leimert Park Village either hosting an event (RE: Taste of Soul) or performing at said event. Her life story was also our story, as everyone at one time or another could relate to a story or situation that she spoke about.

I arrived just as Focal Lion was taking the stage to put the audience and I in a good, happy vibe with some original reggae songs.

The members of Real Rydaz’s Bicycle Club showcased their custom built low rider bicycles. The adults were as excited as the kids in seeing the marvelous craftmanship of these amazing bicycles.

The festival presented a foursome of vocalese artist back to back at this time. Dat E Z Band featuring the lovely Radio on vocals kept it all real, opening with “Street Life” a popular tune by Randy Crawford and The Jazz Crusaders. She sang exceptionally well and channelled the vocal stylings of Minnie Riperton on “Inside My Love,” and Angela Bofill with “I Try,” and closed out with a medley of tunes by Teena Marie on the hits “I Need Your Lovin’,” “Deju Vu (I Have Been Here Before) and finished off with “Square Biz.” This is another band and vocalist I’m looking forward to hearing more of in the near future.

Actress, poet, singer and songwriter Medusa rocked the festival along with a tight band. This was an added treat for me seeing her perform with a band. My previous experience were seeing her as a hip hop, spoken word artists performing around town. Medusa opened her set and ignited the crowd with a version of “Make My Funk the P-Funk,” and continued to fire up the festival with “Medusa-I’m the One,” “I Have Got My Mothers Hustle,” “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” and finished her fiery set with “Come Together.”

Vocalist Dwight Trible kept the show going with an incredible, entertaining set that featured his amazing vocal stylings and range. Poet Audrian Newell recited several poems from her self published book of poetry.

The crowd and I travelled to the vibrant, colorful West African country of Senegal (in our imagination). This dream vacation came to the festival grounds in the form of Balle Fete Bu Senegal. This friendly, family of drummers and dancers held the crowds undivided attention, while listening to the infectious rhythms of Senegal.

The Mooney Twins kept the crowd and I laughing with some socially conscious comedy. They spoke about current events injected with some humor, which cause the crowd to think and digest what these hilarious brothers were talking about.

We paused to remember those in the local and global community that have transitioned to the next phase of life during the first “Sankofa Sunday.” Participating in this solemn, and celebratory occassion were Dr. Scott Brown and Brother M. Kabuila. “Sankofa Sunday” continued with the exciting Jai Jae Kambasa African Drummers and Dancers.

Kudos to the Leimert Park Group for their excellent taste in booking some modern, straight ahead jazz in the program. The jazz purist and I and others were beaming brightly while listening to these wailing souls (saxophonists), Azar Lawrence and Kamasi Washington & The Next Step. Their respective sets made me think about the energy that was taking place up and down Central Avenue back in the day. Azar Lawrence- saxophone, Theo Saunders-keyboards, Tony Dumas-bass, Leon “the Lion” Mobley on percussion and Tony Austin on drums made up this tight band. The group performed two original tunes from Azar’s latest CD Mystic Journey. Their set consisted of “Revelations,” and “Summer Solstice.” Azar channelled John Coltrane on “Lonnie’s Lament,” “Lazy Bird,” and closed out their set with “Selflessness.”

Kamasi Washington & The Next Step is another wonderful group based in Los Angeles. Most of the older jazz audience members and I have watch Kamasi grow and mature in the local and global jazz community. The band featured tunes from Kamasi’s latest CD’s Light of The World and The Proclamation. Azar and Kamasi each received a standing ovation at the end of their set.

Vocalist Une kicked off the final day of the festival with some “Sexual Healing” by the late great Marvin Gaye. This talented singer and songwriter performed material from his self-titled CD which featured his soulful voice on “Lady You Are,” “I Can Remember,” “Hit Da Shaw,” “5th of September” and concluded with “You Complete Me.”

Barbara Morrision received a standing ovation as she made her way to the front of the stage. Looking around the audience, I noticed both men and women crying, as Barbara in her ususal jovial mood launched into “Used Me.” She had good rapport with the audience throughout her set as she joked between songs. She performed an emotionally, but uplifting set of jazz, blues and gospel on the following “You Got to Move”-When the Lord Gets Ready, “I Got A Real Cold Feeling,” “You Made Your Move Too Soon,” a beautiful ballad “Never Let Me Go,” and finished off her set with “Down Home Blues.” Barbara felt all of the love emanating from the crowd and the crowd felt her love in return. This concluded my enjoyment of the festival. However, the Full Circle Band and Najite & The Oklun Prophecy continued to entertain the crowd until 6PM.

 Ricky Richardson is a Southern California based writer, music reviewer and photographer. Contact him via:  [email protected]