Goes high-tech

AFRAM 2000

September 28, 2000|By Helen B. Jones | Helen B. Jones,SUN STAFF

Jazz, gospel and soul music. Crafts tables and food booths. Storytelling and poetry readings. And ... Dot.com Village.

Welcome to AFRAM in the year 2000, the cusp of the millennium, the age of the Internet.

Dot.com Village is one of six theme villages at the three-day celebration of African-American heritage that begins tomorrow at the Pimlico Race Course infield. It will feature a cluster of 20 exhibitors offering computer hardware and software products, hands-on computer training, workshops, virtual-reality tours and opportunities to surf the Web.

AFRAM's promoters expect Dot.com Village to be a major attraction at the 24th annual event and, more important, to serve as a bridge over the so-called "digital divide," the gap between those with computer and Internet access and those without.

The village concept is new to AFRAM this year. The festival, officially called AFRAM Expo 2000, is centered on the six theme villages, the idea for which was derived from the African saying, "It takes a village to raise a child."

"It's all about being inclusive," says AFRAM chairwoman Beverly Carter. "It's Baltimore's festival. The villages address issues that we are all about. We are becoming more global."

In addition to Dot.com Village, festival-goers will find Health and Fitness Village, offering immunizations for children, lead-paint screenings and information booths; United Nations Global African Village, showcasing exhibits on the nation of Ghana; Heritage, Arts and Crafts and Children's Village, featuring a book fair, poetry readings, storytellers, museum displays, a collectors' corner and children's games; a village called Games People Play, offering visitors the chance to play board and video games as well as sports; and Baltimore Community Showcase and Opportunity Village, with booths and displays by citywide community/nonprofit organizations, government agencies, colleges, businesses and more.

"We are trying to meet the community's needs," says Carter. "We want to get everybody to come - to enjoy themselves and partake of the wonderful services. Come for fun, but also to be educated."

On the fun end, AFRAM will have carnival rides for the first time. There won't be any large rides like a Ferris wheel, but the attractions should please the 3-to-12 set, Carter says.

A Dancing in the Streets area will feature demonstrations of hand, line and ballroom dancing, and a battle of the disc jockeys.

The Marketplace & African Bazaar is where festival-goers can find clothing, fabrics, compact discs and tapes, jewelry, books, African imports and items with an Afrocentric theme.

Musical entertainment, perhaps AFRAM's greatest attraction through the years, will be continuous during the three-day run. As with the festival in general, promoters are hoping the lineup will attract a diverse audience.

In the past, Carter says, the music was heavy on hip-hop and contemporary sounds. "We wanted to take [this year's] music to another level - to create diversity, to have something for everyone."

The job of lining up the talent was given to LaRian Finney of the Visionary Marketing Group. "We have a very diverse lineup that should appeal to the Baltimore community as a whole," he says.

The entertainers range from local singers and bands to regional favorites to artists with international exposure.

"Fertile Ground [a Baltimore-based jazz group] has had international concerts," Finney says. "Trin-i-tee 5:7 received a Grammy nomination for gospel. The Choir Boyz [a locally based gospel act] have received national exposure. And [jazz artist] Maysa, who used to be with the group Incognito, has released her second album."

Among the other performers are superstar female rapper Rah Digga, East Coast rap group Major Figgas, locally based trumpeter Dontae Winslow, bluesman Big Jesse Yawn, the Kelly Bell Band (blues), Maiesha & the Hiphuggers (go-go), the Baltimore Islanders Steel Band, Seven (smooth R&B), Craig Alston (jazz) and the Mount Haddon Baptist Church Youth Choir.

The Sunday-night musical finale - always a favorite with AFRAM regulars - features R&B/soul diva Chaka Khan, who has won seven Grammy Awards in a career spanning nearly three decades.

With the theme villages and the kiddie rides and the broad-based musical lineup, AFRAM's promoters are hoping to revitalize one of Baltimore City's largest ethnic festivals.

In the past decade, the festival bounced around from location to location, and last year, in its first outing at Pimlico, it suffered a large decline in attendance.

But even with the new components, this year's planners are taking no chances. They've added night lighting to the Pimlico infield so that the festival can run till 10 p.m. each day. Lack of such lighting forced the festival to end at 8 each night last year, cutting down on the number of attendees, Carter says.

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