From the Brockman Gallery and legendary jazzmen Billy Higgins and Horace Tapscott, to the Museum in Black and Project Blowed mainstays Jurassic 5 and Busdriver, Leimert Park in the past few decades has had a reputation for its unique art and music scene that has attracted attention from all over the city, as well as the world.
This Labor Day weekend that spirit was alive and well at the annual African Arts & Music Festival, which showcases "a broad spectrum of Black creative works including fine arts, quality crafts, music, dance and other performing and visual arts," according to their website. Held in the parking lot behind the under-renovation Vision Theater, the festival brought a throng of vendors, selling everything from the intricate jazz-inspired quilted tapestries to hand-crafted jewelry and dresses. Perhaps fitting with the theme of "African Arts," imagery of Marcus Garvey and Haile Selassie, or Bob Marley for that matter, hung right next to works depicting President Obama, whom some may consider their current-day successor.
Since such works can be found everywhere these days, from the Venice Boardwalk to swap meets everywhere, what stood out at the festival was not the Africa-inspired artworks, but rather the locally-nurtured talent on the musical stage. This year the festival brought such acts as the veteran jazz vocalist Barbara Morrison (founder of a performing arts center in Leimert Park) and, the highlight of the afternoon, young L.A.-bred jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington and his band.
"What's up Leimert!" Knowing the history of the man behind the name, it might strike as odd to hear Washington cheer for the Oakland-born German American developer, though these days it has become synonymous with the neighborhood known for its African-American arts and culture. Washington and his band, which included bass virtuoso Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, enraptured the crowd with their blend of old school spiritual jazz and modern electronic squelches. Each time Washington took on a solo, elderly ladies cheered him on as their own son.
Though it was just a slice of what Leimert Park is all about these days, the festival gave a sense of the unique energy and camaraderie that exists in the community.