Thirty-eight bands, three dance troupes, and a fire-eater are slated to perform at this weekend's Miami-Little Haiti Roots & Culture Festival. But for Albert Jean Alexis, one of the festival organizers, the crowd is the main event.
"What we're trying to do is bring unity to the community," explains Alexis. "The Jamaicans come to check out the Haitian community and they say, 'Hey, their rice and beans and plantains are like ours.' The American blacks come and listen to Haitian music and the Haitians listen to reggae and rap. Maybe they've never met each other before. Maybe they've never gone to each other's neighborhoods. But people can learn a lot by sharing."
Alexis's one-love message is reflected in the lineup of bands scheduled to play along North Miami Avenue from 54th to 62nd streets. The Haitian rasin band Koudjay, a winner at this year's Port-au-Prince carnival for its song "Big Eaters" (a commentary on elitist government hijinks), headlines. Another Haitian group, Kanpech, will play its dance-inciting brand of socially conscious roots-pop. Local Haitian bands include Top Vice, Ayabonmbe, and Kazak Eksperyans. On the reggae front: Rita Marley, Picka Pepa, and Dahima, among others. Rounding out the bill: Ratigann and Mr. Sharkk, Alex Leon y Los Leones de la Salsa, and Tito Puente, Jr.
The festival will also feature DJs set up around the neighborhood, some of them, like Soul City DJs, memorable from their showing at last year's Miami Caribbean Carnival. Local radio personalities, including WLRN's Clint O'Neil and Mike Andrews of WVCG's Caribbean Connection, will act as MCs. Vendors will offer Jamaican, Trinidadian, Haitian, and Cuban food (meaning do not eat before you go). On Saturday morning, schoolchildren bearing posters of black heroes will join a parade; stiltwalkers and Afro-Caribbean dancers will perform throughout the weekend.
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Alexis stresses that the festivities (a two-day event for the first time this year), which coincide with Haitian Flag Day (May 17), are not all fun and games. "We want to bring some money into the community," he notes. "We want to bring the tourists to the black community so they know it's okay to come here. They can hear our music and taste our food and have a good time. When they go home, they'll feel like they've visited a Caribbean island."
Last year 200,000 people attended the one-day Roots & Culture Festival, according to Alexis, who adds that the only reported "incidents" were a few towed cars.
-- Judy Cantor
The Miami-Little Haiti Roots & Culture Festival takes place Saturday, May 16, from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., and Sunday, May 17, from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on North Miami Avenue between 54th and 62nd streets. Admission is free. Call 756-5627.