Bringing back the Soul


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Coming from more than 100 countries, the University of Iowa has nearly 4,000 international students as well as students from virtually every state in America.

Given such far-reaching demographics, it may seem absurd to consider Iowa City lacking in any culture, but Diversity Focus Executive Director Chad Simmons noticed a certain area left wanting — African culture.

The first ever Iowa Soul Festival will take place all day Friday through Sept. 15 between the 100 and 300 blocks of Iowa Avenue to celebrate African American and African culture. Music, dancing, and food of African inspiration will be represented, as well as art and clothing for sale.

“About two years ago, Chad Simmons approached [the city of Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts] and said there really aren’t any major events for African Americans in Iowa, so he proposed a festival to celebrate African and African American culture,” said Lisa Barnes, the executive director of Iowa City’s Summer of the Arts. “[Simmons] helped us put together a committee, and we started meeting last December. We’re excited about doing something a little bit different this year.”

The festival is certainly different from others the Summer of the Arts has put on previously. One of the key differences — UI students will be back in Iowa City for the event.

“Doing an event while students are here, that’s different for us, and we’re really looking forward to it,” Barnes said. “The goal is not only to bring out the African-American community to celebrate but also to bring out the general community to appreciate the culture.”

There are a variety of events the committee hopes will draw in the community, including an art show featuring works with an African influence.

“We really wanted to focus on African-American, African, or African-inspired art,” Barnes said. “We only have seven artists, so it is a very small area. It’s basically one big long row with booths, and everyone will have her or his space within that.”

For sale at the booths will be paintings, sculptures, jewelry, accessories, and clothing.

If individuals are not interested in purchasing any art, there is always the opportunity to come out and hear art.

Soul Festival will feature numerous artists, including the legendary blues singer and guitarist Buddy Guy at 8 p.m. on Friday. Several local and influential artists will perform as well.

“The committee threw out local artists’ names, trying to represent a wide range of different styles of music,” Barnes said.

The artists were all more than happy to oblige, appreciating their chance to share their culture and influence with the Iowa City community.

While they feature different styles of music, all musical performers present African or African-American culture.

Tony Brown, who will perform on the Main Stage at 11 a.m. Saturday, said he will reflect the culture because he is of African-American ancestry.

“I have been born within the roots of the culture that initiated my family before the event of slavery,” he said. “My family passed that on to me. The words, the stories, the history, the expressions, the sounds, the power, the soul-giving, the performance, and the humor, these are what compose the essence of African and African-American music.”

Jon Klinkowitz has a slightly different take on African-American music, given that he is not of African descent (except in the sense that all humans are of African descent if one goes back far enough). Klinkowitz will be joined by Gloria Hardiman on the Main Stage at 11 a.m. Sept. 15.

As a white blues guitar player, Klinkowitz said, he’s always tried to pay homage to and respect the African-American tradition because it’s truly America’s gift to the world.

“Whether you call it jazz, blues, gospel, or soul, it’s all really the same thing, and it’s the foundation of all American music,” he said. “While African-American culture permeates our society through art and music, people often forget about the roots.”

Klinkowitz said he believes young people don’t realize the impact African culture has on the music they listen to today.

“It’s important for young people to know that what they see and listen to now wasn’t created in a vacuum,” he said. “And while the African-American experience is filled with discrimination and suffering, a great deal of joy and celebration can be found as well. It all comes from the feeling.”

The inclusion of powerful emotion seems essential to every aspect of African culture and thus, every aspect of the Iowa Soul Festival.

As Brown said, “If it don’t come from love, it ain’t gonna work.”

Iowa Soul Festival
When: All day Friday through Sept. 15
Where: 100 and 300 blocks of Iowa Avenue
Admission: Free

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