Nigerian fest, feast beckon

August 05, 2007|By Matt Vensel | Matt Vensel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The culture of Nigeria will be on display when Naija Fest 2007 returns to Patterson Park this month.

The two-day festival - this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11-12 - is sponsored by the Nigerian Youth Association of Maryland and will showcase staples of Nigerian culture such as music, dance, food and art to bring African descendants together to celebrate their heritage.

"We want people to be familiar with and educated about our culture," said Adetoun Olumide, Nigerian Youth Association of Maryland president. "It's an avenue to express our culture and make it known to the public."

Maryland has become a popular destination for immigrants from many African countries.

"We're very nomadic people," Olumide said. "We're always looking to move. Maryland is a good location. People cluster where they know family and other people."

Naija Fest 2007 marks the fifth anniversary of the festival, which has grown each year.

Two hundred people attended the inaugural festival in 2003.

Since then, Naija Fest has outgrown its previous home, Hannah More Park in Reisterstown, and 3,000 people attended the festival last year - the first time it was held at Patterson Park.

Festival organizers expect twice as many visitors this year.

Olumide attributes the growth to her organization's collaboration with the Showcase of Nations, a program sponsored by Mayor Sheila Dixon and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts that assists local ethnic festivals with funding, organization and promotion.

"I think it's a wonderful program," Olumide said. "As a small group, your profession isn't doing festivals. It's a really good resource, because that's what they do. The city plays a big role in putting on the event. It makes a huge difference."

Continuous music and dance are the essential elements of Naija Fest, with local African musicians - and a couple of international acts - performing at the festival.

The music ranges from ethnic folk and traditional drumming to African hip-hop, Afro-reggae and Afro-beat, a style that meshes traditional African instruments with Western-style instruments such as guitars and drums.

"Our goal always remains to show the authentic culture displayed through the arts of Nigeria like dance, music and art," Olumide said. "There's so much going on. Music is such a huge thing in the [African] continent."

There is plenty of entertainment for festival-goers of all ages, including arts and crafts workshops, instrument and dance demonstrations, artist displays and an ayo tournament. Ayo is a board game created by the Yoruba tribe that is similar to backgammon.

Children can enjoy an exhibit from Port Discovery, face painting, and storytelling - a popular folk pastime featuring call and response and African drums.

Food is also a big part of Nigerian culture, and various food vendors will be on hand serving up traditional foods like jollof rice, spinach stew, pounded yams and spicy beef kabobs known as suya.

"If you're curious about African culture, it will be something new," Olumide said. "I like to think that festivals are like seeing a country without getting on an airplane. You can come to our little Nigeria and enjoy good music and wonderful performances."

Naija Fest 2007 will be held Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 11-12, at Patterson Park, Eastern and Linwood avenues, Baltimore. Festival hours are noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children under 10. For information, call 410-608-0420 or go to naijafest.org.

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