Back to the Beat: The music is the voyage at Congo Square festival

The music is the voyage at Congo Square festival

Congo Square is the ancestral home of New Orleans’ musical milieu. The poly-rhythms of Africa and the Caribbean were molded into a distinctive American genre whose anchor is the African drum. It is the fitting home of the Sixth Annual Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival, Saturday and Sunday in Armstrong Park.

The festival will include music, parades, 35 art vendors and five food vendors. The free event is presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. A full festival schedule is available at http://www.CongoSquareRhythms.com .

Featured artists will include Cuban percussionists Pedrito Martinez and Alexey Marti, “bhangra funk” band Red Baraat, New Orleans’ funk brass-a-teers the Stooges Brass Band with rapper 3D Na’Tee, a percussion tribute to Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, and Africa Brass — a percussion cooperative featuring Morikeba Kouyate of Senegal, Thierno Diouba of Guinea and OTRA, a Cuban percussion group based in New Orleans.

“It’s our world music festival, but the goal is to highlight, reinforce and promote the historic cultural significance of Congo Square,” said Scott Aiges, director of programs, marketing and communications for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. “We try to illustrate the migration of the culture from Africa through the Caribbean and up into the Gulf South. It’s the music that represents that voyage.”

Aiges said the festival strives to stay true to promoting New Orleans cultural leaders, especially African dance troupes including Kumbuka, N’Kafu, Tekrema and N’Fungolo Sibo and bands such as Moyuba and Bamboula 2000. The event also features Latin dance groups and spotlights brass bands, rap artists and bounce performers. Aiges said that youngsters in Africa are being exposed to New Orleans bounce music via YouTube videos and enjoy imitating the art form, appreciative of American cultural ingenuity.

“This is the logical derivative of the drum and identical to the second line, the link between African antiquity and the drums of today. If you put them side by side, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference,” he said.

A sterling band will commemorate the 70th birthday of Alfred “Uganda” Roberts, who performed with the legendary New Orleans piano master Professor Longhair (Henry Roeland Byrd). The set will infuse New Orleans classics with African and Latin rhythms. Roberts will play congas and will be joined by trumpeter Mario Abney, saxophonist Red Morgan, drummer Eugene Harding, guitarist Seizo Shibayama, bassist Leon Williams and pianist Tom Worrell.

Three tribes of Mardi Gras Indians — Geronimo Hunters, Hard Head Hunters and Red Hawk Hunters — will tie in a deeper connection between African, Caribbean and Native American cultures as they parade through the festival in their multihued, multidimensional finery.

A special drum summit — “Raising the Roof of the Sky” — will meld New Orleans beats and sacred rhythms through a multigenre, multiracial ensemble featuring Cyril Neville, Pedrito Martinez, Jonathon Bloom, Michael Skinus, Alexey Marti and Stanton Moore.

The festival also will present its second Class Got Brass showcase and second line main event competition of high and middle school brass bands, with celebrity judges and prizes totaling $20,000. The Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s aim is to have schools purchase instruments for their respective marching programs with the cash awards.

“The kids love this music and this is a way to indulge their passion,” Aiges said. “It’s a cultural Olympiad, it’s iconically New Orleans, it’s about brass bands, and it’s an opportunity to earn money for their school.”

The Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival is co-sponsored by The Abita Brewing Company, LouisianaTravel.com, the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., Peoples Health, the Louisiana Division of the Arts and radio station WWOZ-FM.