The city is a place of ornate pseudo-Arabian architecture (designed in the Twenties by Bernhardt Muller), well-kept middle-class houses, and crime-infested back streets (police recently resorted to using an armored military-type vehicle to make drug busts in the middle of a Monday afternoon). It's a place of great tradition and lightning change (Opa-locka had three different city managers during one week this month). It's a place, in other words, to celebrate.
The present festivities, a three-day affair called the Arabian Nights Festival, begin Friday and include a variety of events full of contrasts befitting the strange burg. The live entertainment, for example, ranges from easygoing oldies by the Chi-Lites and the Intruders to the gospel power of the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the traditional Beale Street blues of Bobby "Blue" Bland. Plus reggae, salsa, calypso, hip-hop, and dance acts.
As anomalistic as its subject matter, a historical trolley tour revealing details about the town's famous minaret- and dome-graced buildings (inspired not by Moorish architecture but by the fantasy of One Thousand and One Tales from the Arabian Nights) will have a police escort. "Why not?" chuckles Jack Blakely, who will guide the tours. He says the city suffers only from a "perception of a crime problem." He's more interested in talking about the 30 or so historical sites, the outlandish architecture, and the airport (home to a blimp during World War II). All will be covered by his tours, slated for 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Sunday.
Variety means abundance, and Opa-locka's festival is brimming with attractions. Along with the music and history, there'll be a parade, orations, student competitions, a youth talent show, role-model awards, a cook-off, carnival rides, a golf tournament, and an appearance by the Miami Heat Extreme Team. And of course, food. Vendors will offer a bounty of munchies, including barbecue, crabs, fritters, and chicken wings.
The best and brightest of Opa-locka also will be on hand, an important fact to Donner Valle, a Carol City High student who won the poster design competition with his complex pastel and colored-pencil work. "It's like a party or parade," he says of the rendering, "but it's about history and tradition." Much like the revelry itself.
-- Greg Baker
The 73rd Annual Arabian Nights Festival begins at 6:00 p.m. Friday, April 30, and runs through Sunday, May 2, at the north side of Opa-locka City Hall at Sherbondy Park, NW 27th Avenue and 135th Street. Admission is free. Call 305-754-4619.