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Afropolitan Dream- tapping into the soul of BedStuy with a day of arts and culture

On Saturday May 4th, the Afropolitan Dreams Block Party presented on by MoCADA Museum, an art institution which showcases art of the African Diaspora, promised a day of sunlight, music, style and mingling with creative entrepreneurs. The partnership with local Bed-Stuy businesses fused to create a rich event that truly captured the “Soul of Brooklyn.”

Brooklyn Zoo

This block party brought out the least likely of characters. Too risky to be named (it’s illegal to house wild animals without the proper license) Brooklyn based brothers brought their 2 giant snakes outdoors for some sunlight, fresh air and impromptu photo shoots with curious children and increasingly intrigued yet worried neighborhooders.   A boa constrictor and an anaconda seemed to enjoy the attention. “Her last owner didn’t take her out much,” says the eldest brother.  The anaconda spans 14 feet, weighs 155 pounds and eats live 30 pound chickens, although her owner says “rabbits are better for her nutritionally.” With the TLC and patience the owner says it takes to foster wild animals, she’ll have no problem getting to her maximum size of 38 feet and 700 pounds. This is interesting. Because he was rocking the passé urban uniform of baggy sagging jeans, chains, baseball cap and matching t-shirt, you would never expect this man to possess the big sensitive heart it takes to care for wild animals who would otherwise be killed into his home for safekeeping. He expresses that care through his mostly vegan diet as well. That was just one of surprising anomalies I stumbled on that day…

Art by Amit

amit sahu artist and his art

Bed-Stuy artist Amit Sahu stands next to one of his pieces with a local buyer…me! Photo by Akinfe Fatou.

Lured by a sign fashioned out of an old cabinet door that read “$1 art and plants,” I found a small Macon street garage sale on a block of beautiful brownstones. Amit Sahu is a local painter/sculptor/graphic designer whose pieces incorporate images of lions, naked female seductresses and chalky colors pastelled over chunks of recycled wood which take on the form of the subject in the painting.  His card quietly proclaims in small print that he creates “art for the public.” When asked what that means, Amit, who is East Indian, says “my art is not over conceptual.” He works with images that have inspired him from African and East Indian culture. Because of its striking appearance it’s very accessible and consumable for the public…and affordable. I surprisingly walked away with a two piece set for 20 dollars, named “Cleopatra.”  When asked about the price of the pieces Amit shrugs, “I’ll work with you,” he says. Lucky me!

The concert was peppered with people…

…Including campaigning politicians. Before the crowd thickened, I ran in to Reverend Conrad Tillard, the “committed concerned consistent” candidate (in his own words). What stood out about his impromptu speech was that he seems committed to the arts, as he wants to allot 1% of city’s budget to arts programs if he gets into office. He represents the Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights area of Brooklyn.

It had gotten so cold that people went home to their nearby brownstones and put more clothes on their children. An hour and fifteen minutes after the promoted time of 7pm, Blitz the Ambassador prepared the crowd for take-off. Rightfully so. This is what many had been waiting for, along with the arrival of international superstars Les Nubiennes. Via simulated airline announcement Blitz informed us that we would be taking a virtual trip to Accra, Ghana. Finally, it was about to get real.

Horns moving in unison

Blitz the Ambassador perfectly commands the stage

Blitz the Ambassador perfectly commands the stage. Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Blitz, with his fast raps, regal Ghanian attire and perfect command of the stage performed songs from his former album, Native Sun. It includes nuts, bolts, and smoothies: a fusion of afro-beat, hip-hop and neo-soul that always sounds better live.

A sample of Fela’s Water No Get Enemy trickles in and at this point the base could be felt in your chest. Literally the heartbeat of that song was that of the city. Blitz starts rapping in an obscure language, Twi.   “Akwaaba (the song’s title) means welcome” is the refrain. Ambassador Airlines, our vehicle for this musical journey, flawlessly combines hip hop and contemporary African music. Through his beatboxing and samples of “Soul Makossa”…I’d say he was a pretty good captain. Then came the command to scream: How often do you get to scream at the top of your lungs without being judged? So I screamed as if my life depended on it.

blitz and les nubiennes

Blitz the Ambassador and Celia of Les Nubians. Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Les Nubians perform their classic, "Makeda." Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Les Nubians perform their classic, “Makeda.” Photo by Akinfe Fatou

Highlife music resounded, and then a mysterious siren came from nowhere. Our captain of the airline became  commander in chief and spoke of martial law and the hornmen became an army. Blitz proclaimed this next song “The national anthem of the crooked African leaders, ‘Free Your Mind.’” Then, along w Les Nubiennes, serenaded the Motherland with “Dear Africa.” His booming evergy blended perfectly with their soft sweet voices that lilt. Talk about an Afropolitan Dream.

“Usually when I fly people to Africa I don’t bring them back, I just leave them there, ‘cause who wants to come back?” The crowd nearly drowned him out with cheers as Blitz the Ambassador concluded that he wishes to take the Afropolitan Dream (Also the title of his new album) Block Party all over the world.

I hope he does. And it’s fitting that he’d begin in Bed-Stuy. With the influx of celebrities moving to Bed-Stuy in the past few years: Solange Knowles, Les Nubiennes and even Blitz himself lived not too far from where he performed…it’s all coming full circle. Of all the talent that originates here and snakes around the world it’s only right that Bed-Stuy would boast an international line up. There’s a bright future for Bed-Stuy beyond the usual implications of gentrification. This event proved that by bringing brown bodies together for one full day of arts community and pure Afropolitan dopeness.