On June 28th, 2015 a much-anticipated day finally arrived— the Day of the Ancestors: Festival of the Masks. For months, traditional artists, youth artists, youth groups, and diverse community members and LA Commons staff had been pouring their hearts into making this magical day possible.
In preparation for Festival of the Masks, youth artists from the area meticulously decorated traditional African masks and costumes during weekly meetings held in Leimert Park. Additionally, every Saturday in the months leading up to the festival free and all-ages mask-making workshops were provided to the public. Community Arts Program Director Beth Peterson, as well as professional mask making experts, such as Roxanne Abligou and Marie Kellier lead and orchestrated these meetings.
This year marked the fifth anniversary for Festival of the Masks, an innovative community event held in Leimert Park, the African American cultural hub of Los Angeles. The event featured an elaborate and vivacious procession, festival and live musical performances at which the community engaged in a celebration of the global African village, paying homage to their ancestors through mask-making and dance. Tremendous performances were made by S.H.I.N.E Muwasi, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Oblinyanko Drum and Dance Ensemble, African Soul International, Wadada Reggae & Funk, Phil Ranelin Jazz Quartet, and Najite and Olokun Prophecy. Free movement workshops were offered in the park by Nzingha Camara West African Dance, as well as mask-making workshops held by LA Commons and Roxanne Abilugo.
The Festival originated from son of Urhobo tribal chieftain and master percussionist Najite Agindotan’s desire to share traditional African culture with the Los Angeles community. It was Najite’s goal to enable participants the chance to learn about the cultural significance of the festival in Nigeria, and other parts of the African world, as a basis for connecting with and honoring their own ancestors.
In addition to venerating familial predecessors, this years Festival of the Masks was centered on honoring the legacy of those who died to achieve the right to vote without racial discrimination. The struggle fought by forerunners of the Civil Rights movement is ongoing, as daily headlines make all too real. In conjunction with the recently spurred #blacklivesmatter campaign, Festival of the Masks brought the community together to speak out against racial injustice and connect past civil rights battles with present ones.
The festival was made possible in part through funding from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, California Community Foundations and its Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow (PAT) program, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Sempra Foundation and Sony Pictures. The Festival is produced in partnership with the Leimert Park Art Walk in an effort to promote the vibrancy, culture, legacy, and economy of Leimert Park. A special thanks to our community partners ECWANDC, KAOS Network, the Leimert Park Art Walk, the Crenshaw Corridor BID, Motherland Music and Community Build.