Erie’s AmeriMasala Festival celebrates culture with music, dance and food

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AmeriMasala will begin Saturday at noon on Third and State streets with the rumble of drums, flashes of red and white costumes and about 20 women singing in a group called Batala, leading a parade of giant puppets and world beats in Perry Square, where revelers can enjoy cultural activities drawn from across the region.

“We fight against racism by ensuring unity, but not just by mixing, but by celebrating the beauty of African culture and Africans throughout the diaspora, not only in Brazil, but all over the world,” said Deinya Phenix, leader of Batala, based in New York, and a sociologist.

Batala specializes in a Brazilian form of music and dance that Phenix calls “samba reggae”, pronounced “heggay” in Portuguese, the national language of Brazil.

“Many cities in the United States, including Erie, have this mix of people for many reasons,” she said. “The expectation is to blend them together. With AmeriMasala, our differences are celebrated and each person and culture is cherished for who they are.”

Batala:bring the rhythm

Local artist Lynn Johnson, the festival’s coordinator and founder, said Phenix summed up the mission that drives the festival, which he says first met in 1996 and has run every year until in 2006. Then it took a 12-year hiatus while Johnson pursued other interests. He brought it back in 2018.

The first new AmeriMasala Festival was held that year and included a parade of giant puppets, multi-ethnic groups, and representatives from multicultural organizations such as the Erie Asian Pacific American Association. The event also took place in 2019, but not since then due to the coronavirus pandemic.

party 2018:Drummers and puppets highlight Erie’s Amerimasala Parade

Johnson said this year the parade will return, including his signature giant puppets made by him and other city organizations, as well as some from the Parade of the Circle, a similar multicultural festival that takes place in Cleveland, Ohio. .

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Marlon Hatcher of Cleveland participates in the AmeriMasala Festival Parade on July 14, 2018, near Erie's Perry Square.

The party starts at 11 a.m. and continues until 6 p.m. in Perry Square, where revelers will find food trucks serving dishes from many cultures, including Thai, Dominican, Middle Eastern, soul food, Southern baked goods , Mexicans and Puerto Ricans.

“I think people will come just for the food, and that will create more connections with our refugee and immigrant populations,” Johnson said.

Erie Police Bureau Motorcycle Unit Officer Rob Wierbinski prepares to block traffic at the start of the AmeriMasala Festival Parade July 14, 2018, in the 400 block of State Street.

He also promised Indian dance, hip-hop and ballet performances.

Batala won’t be the only band taking part in the parade or performing afterwards. There are four musical acts, also including Tam Tam Magic, a Senegalese group from Cleveland; One World Tribe, whose Facebook page describes it as afro-beat, funk, Latin and world beat founded in Pennsylvania; and street band 12/8 Path from Buffalo.

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Johnson said the festival’s name, “AmeriMasala” combines the words “America” ​​and “masala,” an Indian word meaning “mixture of spices.”

“I’ve always been in social justice work since college,” he said. “I saw how important it is to make a conscious effort to create an environment in which people could interact socially across racial lines.”

If you are going to …

AmeriMasala, a festival celebrating Erie’s diversity, takes place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Perry Square. It includes a midday parade from Third and State streets to Perry Square, where revelers will find cultural performances, food trucks serving cuisine from around the world, and vendors. The event is free. For more information, visit bit.ly/amerimasalaerie.

Contact Jennie Geisler at jgeisler@timesnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ETNgeisler.

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