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Rhythms of the Motherland 

Hearing

Hypnotic and primeval, the thudding strokes of hands against the skins of such African drums as the djembe take us back to a time before the human race migrated out of the Motherland. Beginning with the Inaugural Drum & Dance Circle on Friday, June 16, the sonic core of this summer's Ninth Annual Juneteenth Celebration at Charlotte's Independence Park will be held together by the underlying presence of the drum. Aswirl with complex beats, clapping, cowbell and fluid movements, the drum circle will invoke the link from ancient African polyrhythms to Southern gospel music to today's global hip-hop.

This core connection carries over to a Saturday talent competition and an empowerment stage, on which MCs and musicians will (as KRS-One would put it) edutain the masses. The empowerment stage is sponsored by former EPMD rapper Parrish Smith and his cohort Will Miley of the Virginia-based indie rap label Boondox Records. Performances by some Boondox artists will be augmented by Smith's discussion of economic and social issues, including youth alternatives to gangs. Saturday closes with an evening of live jazz on the lawn (so don't forget your chairs and blankets).

Charlotte's version of an official, citywide Juneteenth Festival was founded by House of Africa's Senegalese proprietor, Mr. Pape S. Ndiaye, in 1998. This year's event, organized by Ndiaye and Juneteenth Festival of the Carolinas, sustains a spotlight on ancestral legacies, education, awareness and empowerment amongst African Americans.

Blackfolks' emancipation from American slavery is what's celebrated at annual Juneteenth events across the nation. What usually amounts to a family cookout or weekend seaside getaway with friends in the South got its start on June 19, 1865. That's when Union Major General Gordon Granger and his soldiers rode into Galveston, TX, proclaiming that enslaved Africans had been freed by President Lincoln's pen stroke. The celebration that ensued continues here more than 140 years later, renewing African Americans' sense of purpose.

The entire festival runs from June 15 to June 18. All events are free (except for a $10 fee for the children's cultural day camp on June 15), plus whatever ducats you choose to drop on merchandize such as tie-dye cloth, African masks and such. You'll catch me queued up for some of the Croaker's Spot fish fry on Friday after the drum circle, and mouth-watering West African staple dishes like Wolof Ceebu Jën elsewhere. Expected to draw around 15,000 adults and 5,000 youths, the event will gather performance stages, vendors, children's activities, workshops and exhibits in the park's expansive, leafy setting.

On Sunday, the festival will host a morning worship, with University Park Baptist Church conducting the 11am service. The day continues with a hat fashion show, a tribute to fathers and other presentations.

Aside from the expected panoply of African wares, food and music, the festival rightfully spotlights education and spirituality. An education village will host lectures, book signings, public dialogue and a forum to address ongoing misperceptions of African history. A youth education group will hold a timely seminar on Africa's HIV epidemic. New additions to the village are the University Park and Friendship Missionary Baptist churches -- they'll jointly illuminate Juneteenth history and screen a DVD of their recent mission to South Africa. And although the cultural camp program is geared to teaching little ones the meaning of Juneteenth through the arts, no one should miss Gary Munford and Malik Tillman's dance and drum demonstrations.

Other highlights include an African wedding ceremony at 5pm Saturday, the Juneteenth 5k Scholarship Walk on Saturday from 8--10am, and the must-see Juneteenth Parade at 11:30am Saturday. On Friday night, House of Africa will host a neighborhood block party in Plaza-Midwood at its Thomas Avenue location.

If you've never attended Juneteenth, here's your chance to participate in something this season that has far-reaching impact for society beyond mere summer fun. And it'll be a sonic boom.

Juneteenth 2006 takes place June 15-18 at Charlotte's Independence Park, 300 Hawthorne Lane. House of Africa is located at 1215 Thomas Ave., 704-376-6160. Visit www.juneteenthofthecarolinas.com for more info.

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