Concert series kicks off in Highland
Highland barely had time to catch its breath after their July 4 celebration when the very next night they kicked off a free summer concert series.
The series will feature a mix of pop, rock and doo-wop musical acts every Thursday evening at the Village Field from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and will conclude on August 30 with an old fashioned sock hop dance on the lawn.
Last week’s concert opened with Chiku Awali, an African Dance and drumming troupe. The troupe’s founder Alexandreena Dixon said “Chiku” in Swahili from East Africa means “character” and “Awali” in the Ibo language of Nigeria means “joy,” which she hopes will indeed bring heartfelt joy to those who see them perform. The drummers used a variety of hand drums, known as djembes, to back up different types of African dances, such as “Gota” from Republic of Benin and the “Triba” from Guinea from the West Coast of Africa. Dixon pointed out that tap dancing and even the Charleston in the U.S. have their origins in Africa.
Dixon, now in her 60s, said she has been dancing since she was 3 years old. As a former Superintendent with the NYS Department of Corrections, Dixon has taught African Dance and Cultural Arts in Rockland County since 2003 as a way to give back to her community. She knows only too well the importance of helping young people “stay out of any kind of trouble they would have to go to prison for,” she said.
Dixon said she regularly travels with her students to Africa, especially to Ghana on the West Coast, to learn the traditional folk dances and the rich heritage from this unique region of the world. Dixon said her own ancestry is a mix of Akan from Ghana, Yoruba from Nigeria and Bamileke from the Cameroon. On one of her visits Dixon participated in a ceremony known as a Dabar to become a Queen Mother of Bepoase [land beneath the mountains], a small village in Ghana. She was given the royal name of Nana Yaa Oforiwaa Amanfo.
Dixon said each type of dance has either a purpose or a story to tell, such as an initiation process; the trials of a fishing expedition or a dance that women do for the men to let them know they are ready for marriage.
Dixon said knowing your roots is critically important.
“If you don’t have a cultural past, if you don’t have an artistic past in some form, people perish,” she said. “This is a way to keep our kids connected to who they are and where they came from.”
With a little encouragement, Dixon got a large group of concertgoers to participate in a dance known as the “Gundi” from Senegal.
The drumming and dancing presentation was followed by a quartet of singers, known as Voce – or the “voice,” in Italian. The group, which sang a wide variety of pop, Motown and swing, consists of Joanne Still, Marybeth Giammarco, Stephanie Moorman and Marie Lysandrou. Besides singing together for more than a decade, all have been involved in the field of education.
Cynthia Walker, known as the Queen of Hearts, represented the Newburgh based management company, Ferry Godmother Productions, is handling the booking of the musical artists. Walker said the company, founded by Aquanetta Wright after working on the Newburgh-Beacon Ferry, was invited to Highland “and we jumped at the chance. Tonight everyone seems to love it.”
Walker said on future Thursday evenings “we have some acappella, some classic rock, a Nat King Cole tribute and some amazing musicians with some different styles.”
Last year Joseph Indelicato attended some of the concerts the Ferry Godmother presented in Newburgh. He walked away impressed and encouraged the Town Board to revive concerts in Highland this summer.
“It was a very nice turnout for the night after the Fourth of July,” he said. “There’s a lot more pop, rock and doo-wop coming and the sock hop at the end should be fun.”
Indelicato said “all the kids enjoyed the African drumming. It was a real hit.”
Supervisor Paul Hansut said the Ferry Godmother Productions solicited the local businesses in the area for their support through sponsorships.
“We’re looking forward to it. It brings something to the Village that we haven’t had,” he said. “Hopefully, people will come here and they’ll either eat at the businesses in the Village or afterwards. The best thing is its not costing the taxpayers a penny; we like that.”
Ulster County Legislator Wayne Harris said a concert series is great for tourism in the area.
“We’re really right in a perfect spot for it now, with the Walkway and the Rail Trail and fortunately Mother Nature is cooperating with us now,” he said.
Fellow Legislator Mary Beth Maio said she hopes everyone will tell ten friends about the concert so that “next time we’ll be fighting for seats to sit here. So thanks for coming out and supporting the community by being here.”
NYS Assemblyman Frank Skartados said having a concert series will help to grow the local economy.
“We have to do what we can. As you know we lost manufacturing in this area, so everything we can do to improve conditions is great,” he said.
Before the evening closed, Kit Cowan, of the Lloyd Development Association, announced that Jerry Erichsen was the winner of their raffle for a Giant brand ‘boulder’ model 21 speed mountain bike that was provided by Savata’s TRT Bike Shop in Rosendale.
By Mark Reynolds