You know you'll hear every nuance in jazz singer Nancy Wilson's delivery, because from Atlanta's Chastain Park during Wilson's appearance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, you can ju-uust about see the vocal chords behind that broad smile. Wilson's infectious smile and voice are all it takes to fill an amphitheater, but the National Black Arts Festival (NBAF) has also scheduled other big guns to hold you captive, such as Ruth Brown, Abbey Lincoln and Me'shell NdegeOcello.
No, the fourth biennial NBAF isn't extraordinarily feminist, vocal or star-struck (singer-percussionist Vinx will be there, too); nor is Chastain Park the only game in town. There will be approximately 150 other cultural-arts events at 30 Atlanta locations.
This festival marks a meeting of Hollywood and Broadway, covering dance, film, literature, music and theater, as well as folk, performance and visual arts. "The NBAF is the kind of event we have all been hungering for, that kind of comprehensive look at our culture," explains Managing Director James Borders.
Although the festival is scheduled to run from July 29 to August 7, many of the related events spill over into the preceding and following weeks. They include the exhibition "Equal Rights and Justice," a multimedia visual-arts assessment of the black church, the struggle for educational equality, the effects of discrimination, and other topics, at the High Museum of Art. You'll have to take to Atlanta's streets, however, to view the stark images by such artists as photographer Carrie Mae Weems displayed on billboards across the city.
During the 10-day festival proper, Piedmont Park is the site of various activities, including the two-day Roots and Branches Folk Festival, which this year includes Celebrate Africa!, the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games Cultural Olympiad component. Celebrate Africa! features such African dance troupes as Compagnie Ebene, the Soweto Street Beat Dance Company, and World Dance and Drum Summit; the South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo; and the Ensemble Koteba theater company.
Greenbriar Mall is the site of the Artists' Market; a book fair with illustrators, storytellers and authors, including Nikki Giovanni and Quincy Troupe; and the Black Cinematheque, featuring documentaries, free family films, premieres, and symposiums and public talks with filmmakers.
Then there's Atlanta's Ballethnic Dance Company premiere of a work set for them by choreographer Irene Tassembedo and the Nuyorican Poets' performance of Rome Neal's Life During Wartime; a show of Martinique painters at the Georgia Council for the Arts' Carriage Works Gallery; and puppeteer Brad Brewer who casts fantasy with his Crowtations.
One of the festival's permanent events, the Art Reach program, will bring an interactive exhibition of games and other activities for young people by the National Basketball Association. "We think that the correlation between art and sports in our community is a vital one, and, in fact, we have pretty much adopted the slogan that art is a contact sport," explains Borders. "You'll see us using the arts as a base from which to connect with all aspects of life in the African-American community and in communities of African descent."