by John Chacona
one change in the schedule," Amerimasala founder and director Lynn Johnson told me. "The dance troupe from Togo won't be here."
explained how he had made repeated calls to the U.S. Consulate in the West African nation seeking to secure the documents that would permit the Aledjo Cultural Group to enter this country.
consulate refused to fax or e-mail me a copy of the documents. ... Then a Togolese guard demanded $1,000 to let the troupe in."
to the world of big-time international-arts presentation, Lynn.
Johnson has plenty of company among U.S. presenters who have faced increasing obstacles in bringing in artists from abroad.
But Johnson isn't one to be discouraged.
If he were, the Amerimasala Festival would have been stillborn.
Instead, Erie's most interesting little festival celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, and Johnson insists that this edition is the best.
have a real strong lineup," he told me on the phone from his office. "A lot of the performers are pumped up about this."
include perennials like Erie funk collective One World Tribe who, Johnson reminded me, are celebrating an anniversary of their own.
first Amerimasala was their first time playing out."
UNITY THROUGH RHYTHM HAS ALWAYS
been an unofficial theme of the festival, and this year the rhythms come from Dominican-born, Puerto Rico-reared percussionist Raphael Cruz, who brings a glittering list of sideman credits and a hot New York Latin quartet to both the festival and Papermoon.
and teacher Ubaka Hill from Brooklyn will present a drum workshop on Friday evening at Sojourner Expressions in advance of the festival, which will officially begin with drumming and a parade up State Street on Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m.
on the docket are instrumentalist and healer Rafael Bejarano, who returns off his triumphant Erie appearences of last year, and London-born Philadelphia violinist and vocalist Fiidla, who has recorded with Mary J. Blige and Carlos Santana.
in one if its final major performances before the founders move to Toronto, the innovative Cleveland music and movement collective SAFMOD will take the Perry Square stage.
kaleidoscopic though they may be, the performances are only half of the Amerimasala magic.
At heart, this is a festival for children.
not explicitly programmed as such, Amerimasala, with its array of colorful and fascinating cultures and its leisurely pace, encourages children to find interesting things at their own pace.
It's completely free of the didacticism and condescension that make some kid-oriented events rough going for children and adults alike.
of all, Amerimasala reflects the easy-going curiosity and optimism of its founder who, despite difficulties in securing performers and the funding to pay them, is, well ... "pumped up."
telling the performers that they better bring everything when they take that stage, because the performers who come on before them are going to be pumped, too," Johnson said.
10th Annual Amerimasala Festival
will be held Saturday in Perry Square.
There are two related events tonight and tomorrow.
Check the complete schedule below.
John Chacona was producer and host of WQLN-FM's 'After Hours' program and writes about jazz and world music for several publications in print and on the Internet.