Congo Square Signage: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Congo Square Signage: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

New Orleans – The accolades, achievements recognition and rewards keep flowing into New Orleans like a steamboat down the Mississippi River.

New Orleans continue to enthrall visitors and garner accolades, most recently being named the #2 city in North America for visitors according to a Travel + Leisure readers survey. New Orleans ranked second to Charleston but above San Francisco, New York City and Chicago.

“Readers ranked cities based on categories such as arts, shopping, dining, romantic ambience and friendliness. New Orleans was chosen as the number two destination in America, ranking #1 in the world for nightlife and #2 in the nation for dining. Travel + Leisure touted both historic dining options and innovative new jazz clubs and bars in the Crescent City as reasons for its high rating.” This explains why I continue to return to the Crescent City to partake in the music, food and culture.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that owns the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, presented the 9th Annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival. This huge two-day cultural celebration was held on Saturday, March 19th and Sunday, March 20th. The festival was held in historic Armstrong Park to celebrate the music, and cultures of the African diaspora featuring a stellar line-up of local musicians. Armstrong Park is name after the legendary Ambassador of New Orleans Louis Armstrong. The park was also called Congo Square, which our Ancestors used to gather to have a great time (listen to music and dance) and browse through the variety of vendors, in what is currently called an African Marketplace or bazaar.

The eclectic line up featured New Orleans brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians and African percussion and dance ensembles representing various countries in the African diaspora (Africa, the Caribbean, American Gulf South and beyond). The festival boasts a musical line-up to satisfy any music lover’s taste.

There was also an array of delicious food for sale, arts marketplace and interactive kid’s area.

“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly…with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit.” Colossians 3:16

Yes, ladies and gentleman; boys and girls, the spirits of the Ancestors loomed large over Armstrong Park during the 9th Annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival. Luther Gray, Congo Square Preservation Society mentioned to the audience that “we are standing on sacred grounds” before opening his drum circle. Their program got under way with Funga Liberia dance and welcome rhythm. Their educational and entertaining set continued with Lambam, a Healing rhythm of Mali, Akon Kon rhythm of strength from Senegal and Bamboula, Ancestry rhythm of the Congo.

Drum circle with Luther Gray: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Drum circle with Luther Gray: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

The rhythms of the drums are the thread that connects all of the bands together. The group Moyuba served as a perfect segue from the previous band. They sang in the Yoruba language of Nigeria while performing the sacred tunes “Esu-Elegba-Moyuba,” “Ogun-Ogun De De,” “Yemaya-Yemaya,” and Oshun-Iya Del Ile.”

Moyuba: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Moyuba: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Moyuba: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Moyuba: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

The Chakra Dance Theater and Culu & N’Kafu African Dance Troupes thrilled the crowd with a program of West African Dance and Drumming. Tekrama Dance Theater jammed to the sounds of Reggae.

Zion Trinity replaced the previously scheduled The Overtakers from Jamaica. The group shined on this overcast gray day with some positive vibes on “Babylon, Babylon,” “Could You Be Loved,” “Telephone Love,” and “Not Guilty” to name a few.

Zion Trinity: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Zion Trinity: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Pirate’s Choice took it up a notch with some high energy World Beat sounds. The Congo Kids, with the assistance of the Positive Vibration Foundation jammed with the band on their opening tune. The band shifted into high gear on “Aduna,” “Area Code,” “Fama Den Ke,” and “Barro So.” Pirate’s Choice featured two special guests Ya Couba Sissoko from Mali, playing the Kora and Mor Coumba Gueye from Senegal, playing the percussions.

Pirate's Choice with Congo Kids: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Pirate’s Choice with Congo Kids: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Pirate's Choice: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Pirate’s Choice: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Muevelo is a sizzling New Orleans based Celia Cruz cover band. Lead vocalist Margie Perez honors and played a special tribute to the dynamic musical styling of Celia Cruz. The band was smoking on the tunes “Ahi Nama,” “Usted Abuso,” “La Vida Es Un Carnaval,” and “Quimbara.”

The program continued with a Mardi Gras Indian Battle, Big Chief Monk Bourdreaux & The Golden Eagles and Ivan Neville’s “Injuns Here Dey Come” consisted of Big Chief Monk Bourdreaux of The Golden Eagles, Big Chief Roderick Sylvas of The Wild Tchoupitoulas, and Big Chief Juan Pardo of The Golden Comanches.

The show continued on Sunday, the day was clear, windy and a bit chilly. A larger enthusiastic crowd assembled into the park to hear the opening set of African Drumming and Dance Circle. Entertainment continued with One Love Brass Band, N’Fungola Sibo Dance Theater, Bamboula 2000, and Kumbuka African Dance Ensemble.

N'Fungola Sibo Dance Theater: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

N’Fungola Sibo Dance Theater: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Two popular vocalists were on the bill. The Voice contestant Tonya Boyd-Cannon and Tank and the Bangas wowed the crowd with their unique, powerful, show stopping performance while in the spotlight.

Tonya Boyd-Cannon: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Tonya Boyd-Cannon: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Tank and the Bangas: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Tank and the Bangas: Photo Credit, Ricky Richardson

Medard H. Nelson Charter School, a middle school topped several more experienced high schools to take to honors-and a gift certificate for $10,000 worth of instruments-for the fifth annual Class Got Brass competition, sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.

Crowd favorites Rebirth Brass Band closed out the 9th Annual Congo Square Rhythm Festival with a dazzling performance to the delight of the audience.

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