Since opening in 2012, Downtown Los Angeles’ Grand Park has proven their slogan “The Park for Everyone” is no gimmick, and with free, community-driven events like their above-occupancy New Year’s bash and current Lunchtime Concert series, they help unite and support Angelenos of all backgrounds.
Grand Park’s free Lunchtime Concerts occur every other Thursday beginning last week on March 6th and each month will have a different musical theme. March’s theme is traditional music and the first act featured was Adaawe, an eclectic seven-member female ensemble that plays an international infusion of African, Latin and Reggae music blended with jazz, funk and R&B. Enamored by this representation of traditional music, a friend and I packed a picnic and took the train downtown for a mini-lunchtime adventure.
As we approached the park, we were pleasantly surprised to see a smattering of pink lawn chairs surrounding a stage, with more benches further back for the less eager concert participants. There were several food trucks (including The Lobsta Truck!) serving up hot lunches behind the lawn, and the usually quick-paced businessmen and women of downtown sat in clusters, contentedly snacking and bobbing their head to the enthusiastic beat.
It was impossible not to be swept up in Adaawe‘s energy and passion, to not grin as they bellowed uplifting, repurposed Gospel lyrics, one of them occasionally yapping an enthusiastic, “Ayiyiyiyiyi!” They taught the audience what Juba meant, having us pronounce the word slowly before unraveling it’s meaning. During slavery, many instruments were forbidden for fear that slaves would use them to relay secret codes, so Juba, a style of dance and music that involved clapping and keeping time with hands and feet, was invented.
From there they launched into a soulful, triumphant take on the old Black Spiritual “Wade in the Water,” removing centuries of weariness and pain to instead recall emotions of perseverance and pride that reminds us to celebrate progress and embrace all we’ve overcome.
The band’s diverse line up includes singers, actors, choreographers, educators and artists who originate from Kenya, Morocco, Israel, Panama and all over the United States. Each of them brings a piece of their culture to their performances, making the concert an unexpectedly fun, interactive learning experience.
Before closing out the show with a lengthy, percussion-driven rendition of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Thank You For Letting Me Be Myself Again,” they performed a rhythmic, uptempo version of “Let Your Little Light Shine” that transported me to my once-removed Misssissippi roots and almost tempted me into running a quick spiritual lap around the park.
Throughout the show I mentioned more than once to my friend how I envied those who could dip out of the office for thirty minutes and be greeted by an expansive grassy lawn and happy Angelenos of all ages and backgrounds swaying happily to joyous and captivating music. For those working in the neighboring downtown buildings, the bi-weekly concerts seem to serve as a small workday getaway, recharging them before they face the remainder of the day.
Adaawe‘s performance certainly did as much for me, and as I held my breath before ducking into the claustrophobic train station and heading home, their Afro-Latin beats continued to dance wildly in my head.
For more information about Adaawe and their music, visit their website.