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story.lead_photo.caption Saturday’s Africa Day Fest celebrates the diversity of African culture with music, dance, fashion and food.

Ubuntu.

It's an African philosophy that, Benito Lubazibwa says, means "I am because we are."

It's a philosophy of community and interdependence, something that led Lubazibwa to found the Africa Day Fest in 2017.

This year marks the second year for the festival in Little Rock's South Main Street district, a celebration of African arts and culture through food, fashion, dance and music.

"I want to bring Africa to Arkansas and share with the people of Arkansas our diverse and rich culture," Lubazibwa says.

In his time in the United States, he says, he has encountered people with misconceptions about Africa and he sees the festival as a way to change that: "I think through interaction, through food, through dancing, through music, through celebration and coming together as one community, I think that's the best way -- from my point of view -- to start understanding each other."

It all begins with a kickoff event, 6-9 p.m. today at the Junction Bridge in the River Market District. There will be a fashion show with four African fashion designers and African food and wine. The admission fee of $25 will help support Saturday's main festival but -- just as importantly -- the kickoff will promote and draw attention to the Africa Day Fest.

Lubazibwa says, "We want to start big. We want people to say 'Hey, I don't want to miss this one.'"

People who came to last year's festival will notice a few changes, making the festival bigger and better.

The Saturday festival will also feature a fashion show and African food. People can expect traditional dishes from Ethiopia, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon and other countries provided by restaurants and local food vendors.

Just like last year, there will be a drum circle but while last year's circle had 20 drums, this year they're predicting more than 60. Afrique Aya from the Ivory Coast will lead the circle, which is a large, exciting and loud symbol of inclusion.

Lubazibwa explains, "The good thing about a drum circle, anybody can come and play drums. You don't have to be a specialist."

Spectator participation is also encouraged in other aspects of the festival. Lubazibwa says that most of the music and dance performances are in the streets, not on stages, so the performers can interact with patrons.

Africa Day Fest

11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, South Main Street, Little Rock

Admission: Free

Kickoff event

6-9 p.m. today, Junction Bridge, Little Rock

Tickets: $25

(501) 712-0997

africadayfestival.com

"We encourage the performers to make sure they engage the audience," he says. "In Africa, we say, 'If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing.' We encourage everyone to come to the festival to participate in one way or another so they can be part of the celebration."

The dance and fashion show elements will also incorporate elements of the recent hit movie Black Panther, though exactly how remains a surprise.

Perhaps the biggest addition this year is an art village in the Bernice Garden. There, artists will create and interact with people and Zinse Agginie, a storyteller from Ghana, will tell tales to people of all ages.

Lubazibwa emphasizes that there is no alcohol sold at this family-friendly festival and admission is free.

"We don't want to put any barrier," he says. "We welcome everybody."

There will be fees for vendor purchases, however, and Lubazibwa points out that most of them will be local startup businesses.

"We want people to come and spend money [with] the vendors," he says. "It will have an economic impact in our community."

Lubazibwa hopes the street festival will help forge tighter community bonds across lines of race, culture and nationality: "From my point of view, this is an experience you don't want to miss. And if you come, you won't forget."

Weekend on 05/24/2018

Print Headline: Africa Day Fest embraces diversity in cultures

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