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Annual world festival comes to Telegraph

By Wanda Sabir Special to the Daily Planet
Friday August 24, 2001

Have you ever wanted to taste the cultural spices of Boriqua, sip Arabic coffee, invite Yemaya for a stroll, but couldn’t fit a world cruise into your schedule?  

From noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, you can have it all, at the musical block party near Durant and Telegraph avenues. 

The Third annual Berkeley World Music Festival, sponsored by the Telegraph Area Association, features a main stage, at Durant and Bowditch Street. Hosted by radio deejay Avotcja, it will feature: Grupo Ilu Fun Fun (Afro–Cuban), Petit La Croix (Afro–Haitian), Samba Ngo (Congolese), O–Maya (Afro–Latin hip–hop), and Fito Reinoso y Su Ritmo y Armonia (Afro–Cuba).  

A few blocks away, at a stage at Durant and Telegraph the public will experience Mexican, Polynesian, and Indian dance. 

Funny thing about this trip we’ll be taking around the world Sunday afternoon – all of these ensembles call the Bay Area home.  

One group that stands out is O-Maya.  

Just this month folks at Ashkenaz were grooving to its jazzy sounds.  

It’s a hip 10–member dance band that incorporates son, samba, salsa, merengue, reggae into a fresh blend of “forget everything except a good time.”  

Just two years old, the band features: Destani Wolf (vocalist), Rico Pabon (vocalist/MC), Jorge Martinez (vocalist/guitar), Hector Perez (bongo and percussion), David Flores (drums), Steve Hogan (bass), Bill Artola (keyboards, accordion, and sampler), Quincy Griffin (saxophone and flute), Rene Flores (conga). 

They’ll be on the main stage at 4 p.m. Sunday.  

Quincy tells me that the name of the group – O–Maya (www.o– – can mean different things depending on who’s translating.  

In Hindi, O–Maya means “the illusion of life,” but illusion in Mexican culture can have a double meaning of aspiration or hope.  

The ‘O’ represents the circle that keeps the members together like a family, which is what the two founding members Quincy and Bill Artola were trying to accomplish two years ago.  

The two men wanted a band that fused the styles of music together that they loved, music that would speak to people of their generation – which they did, that and more. 

“We don’t know who our audience is,” Quincy said. “Some shows are packed with folks in their 20s, and others have old folks and little kids dancing around.  

“I think our main goal is to appeal to crowds that we feel like we have something in common with.  

The diversity of ethnicities and ages (of people who come to our shows) is great and it’s a reflection of who we are: African American, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Puerto Rican, and white.  

It’s true, an O–Maya concert feels like a big houseparty – easy vibe, sometimes one feels like she’s in Bahia – with the djun djun drums and bells, then the next moment the brass horns, reeds, and swinging piano take one somewhere else so take along the dancing shoes Sunday for a fun time. 

Sambo Ngo, born in the Congo, has a long and illustrious career playing with jazz musicians such as Herbie Hancock, and percussionist Bill Summers.  

Ngo came to the states about twenty years ago to form his own band, which features him on guitar and vocals performing music of his homeland in a variety of styles which include acoustic accompaniment on his guitar, or the kisanji – what many call the mbira.  

I hadn’t realized that the “thumb piano” was an instrument indigenous to the Congo, and as it made its rounds to other parts of Africa the name changed to kilamba (Ghana) and imbera (South Africa.)  

Ngo has a unique approach to Congolese music, which many people only know through the songs of veteran singers such as Papa Wemba and Sam Mangwana.  

Ngo says that he has taken the path of least resistance and sings in the style he learned as a boy, writing lyrics that talk about his people and their history.  

Just like O–Maya, Samba Ngo melodies are uplifting because as the bandleader explained: “The music is supposed to do something for you. If the environment is so difficult, music can heal, make one happy, keep one going.”  

With Ngo’s music we can slip out of our cerebral context and become the “thing that we are doing.” This is the way African people have been able to survive, Ngo says. “People don’t know the music from Africa and when they come Sunday, they are going to see what I mean, because they only know soukous, etc.; they know only a few styles. (Congolese) music has a variety of styles, the music I play is music everybody can feel from children to adults.” 

Culture is a wonderful way to share what we know about ourselves with others and there will plenty of opportunities to fill our plates this weekend. For information call 649–9500, or