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Festival Offers Message of Unity, Diversity and Community

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By Debbie Wallace –

The City of Riverside may have to see cultural arts through a new lens.

While the 7th Annual International Drum, Dance and Mask Festival offered an explosion of dance, music and art, its underlying message of unity and diversity added something new – community service, service learning and the importance of creating collaboratives.

The festival, held May 22nd at Riverside’s White Park, gave producer and presenter, “We the People” Cultural Arts Group (WTP), an opportunity to showcase community groups, regional talent and a pioneering music legend yet keep the theme relevant.

“We want people to understand the importance of giving,” noted festival organizer Yvonne Choyce-Oglesby. “Giving comes in many forms.”

“This is a great opportunity to give community service,” said Supervising Parole Agent, Sandra Abacherli. The Home Shopping Network, AmeriCorps Restoring Youth and Communities, the Department of Juvenile Justice, Dectech Music Production Training Center and scores of volunteers offered over one thousand community service hours towards the production of Saturday’s event. Volunteers gave valuable community service time while learning more about diversity, unity and cultures from around the world.

Throughout the day, the audience sampled music and dance from South America, Central America, Africa, Asia, Europe as well as music, art and dance created in America. “I feel like I am visiting the United Nations. The nice thing is I do not need an interpreter because music, art and dance are universal languages,” noted volunteer, Derrick Turner.

Each performance captured the festivals message and colorfully exported it to the audience. Under the watchful eye of master percussionist and storyteller, Clarence “Chazz” Ross, children formed a drum circle and participated in a magical story took them across the ocean and through the jungle.

Traditional drumming such as the Senryu Taiko Drummers were a major element of the program but the organizers felt it was important to include various art forms.

ENVY, a contemporary female duet and Joey’s Project, rocked the house with its blend of rock, funk fusion while Son Merekumbe flavored the festival with a taste of Afro Cuban song and dance.

WTP founder Lori Dismuke, formed the nucleus of the WTP Dance Troup whose West African drum and dance ensemble connected the continents with their highenergy act. When steel band sensation, Sapadilla, played the theme song from the movie Madagascar II, “I Like to Move It,” the audience agreed and clapped to the beat. Both children and adults circled the band’s stilt dancer and the audience joined in the chorus.

Moreno Valley resident, Dr. Steven Merrall, brought his father, who is visiting from England to the festival in hopes of learning more about music from other cultures. “This is a great event. The atmosphere is positive. The food is great and performers are unbelievable,” said Merrall. “This is a wonderful example of community service coming together,” he added.

Away from the stage, event goers sampled face painting, viewed fine art by Charles Bibbs and experienced a live music studio.

“Never have I seen so many activities in one place. They even had a live recording booth at the festival,” recalled festival attendee, Justin Murphy. “What makes this awesome is this was all free.”

Pioneering musical legend, Kurtis Blow punctuated the program with a riveting performance.

He asked the audience to make individual and community commitments while taking them down musical memory lane.

Blow brought a group of local children on the stage and showed all that he still had some good dance moves. The crowd chimed and rhymed with Blow as he sang his mega hits, “The Breaks” and “Basketball” and recalled the “old school days.”

As an ordained minister, Blow speaks out against racism, drugs and alcohol. “We wanted people to hear his message yet still have fun listening to his music,” said Derek Yobb, Jr., whose company, Dectech, arranged and sponsored Blow’s appearance.

WTP plans new dance and music programs to its menu of activities but recognizes how important the festival is to the community. “We are already working on next year. We hope it will be bigger and better,” noted Dismuke.

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