Harlem celebrated its African heritage during the Mafrika Festival, a day-long event that featured acts from all over that continent, going from reggae to rock, Arabic and other genres. Also on hand were a few food vendors showcasing delicacies from many countries, including lamb & rice, fried plantains and some desserts.
When we arrived at the scene, Brooklyn-based Thunda Vida was finishing their roots-reggae set that seemed to have been appreciated by the audience, which varied from locals from the neighborhood to tourists and fans of each individual band.
After a brief break, hosts Dj Kadafi (who spoke in French) and Chris Karaoke introduced New York-based Moroccan singer Gaida, who came in and shared some of the songs from her country. The singer, who has an upcoming CD in the works, has a powerful voice and full command of the music she sings, but it took a while for the crowd to warm up to her. Nonetheless, she slowly conquered them with warm smile and charm, and when her short set ended (which lasted about 20 minutes), she was loudly applauded.
Next up was Israeli-born bellydancer Daphne, who stirred up the crowd with her highly sensual moves. A lot of curious fans walked up near the stage to check her dance out, and many of them snapped up their video cameras to keep the moment for posterity.
Taking full advantage of the fact that more people had crowded the area near the stage, New York-based Afrobeat band Akoya kicked off their set with a high-energy number that they dedicated to the memory of Fela Kuti, one of their greatest influences. The multi-cultural twelve-piece band includes musicians from various backgrounds, and their sound, influenced by the likes of Sunny Ade, the aforementioned Kuti and Hugh Masekela, mixes everything up by incorporating jazz, rock and other elements into their sound. Fans seemed to be moved by their set, which included plenty of improvisation that served to show everyone's chops.
The 2007 Mafrika Music Festival was quite successful, serving as a platform for musicians who are looking for a broader audience. Other acts included that evening were Latin band San Juan Hill, experimental rock group Muthawit, traditional African Noog Taaba and modern African group Mandingo King.