Soul of Iowa City

Soul+of+Iowa+City

By Claire Dietz
[email protected]

Soul Fest
When: Friday-Saturday
Where: Downtown
Admission: Free

Walking into Loyce Arthur’s studio in the Theater Building, one is immediately greeted by chaos and a cacophony of bright colors. Fabrics and costumes reminiscent of the Carnaval celebrations in Rio de Janeiro overflow the large work tables. Brazil may be more than 5,000 miles away, but Arthur is bringing the spirit of the celebration to Iowa City. Check out a clip here:

Her workshop may be overwhelming, but it is a well-loved mess; this Carnaval parade, after years of dedicated effort, will kick off the Iowa City Soul Festival at 5 p.m. Friday while the Pandelerium Steel Band plays on the main stage. Events will continue through Saturday night on the Pentacrest, Clinton Street, and Iowa Avenue.

Arthur hopes the Carnaval Parade will go on to “involve as many kinds of Iowans as possible, all the voices of Iowa,” she said. Another way she hopes to have citizens of Iowa participate is through the inclusion of the Iowa River of Stories.

The costumes and banners composing the River of Stories depict tales from kids all over Iowa, students from the English, Spanish, and Portuguese Departments who went through the Iowa Young Writers program.

“Anyone who is kind of part of the community, I want them to have a voice for the parade,” Arthur said. “UI Associate Professor Rachel Williams took the piece with her to the prison project she did. We also did some workshops. And so these mixtures of stories are here, representing all sorts of different Iowans.”

The ever-growing and shifting history of Carnaval has been largely influenced by immigrants who bring the traditions of their native countries into their new home, Arthur said.

“Carnaval design involves and overlaps a lot with African art traditions of dance, music, and a visual art combination,” Arthur said. “That’s because the African slaves influenced Carnavals in Trinidad and West Indies because that is a part of their cultural makeup.”

The complementary relationship between Carnaval and African culture brought about the collaboration of the parade and Soul Fest.

Lisa Barnes, the executive director of Summer of the Arts, said the idea for Iowa Soul Fest came from Chad Simmons, the executive director of diversity focus.

“[Simmons] wanted to provide a destination event that would bring together and celebrate the positive influence of the African-American community in the Corridor,” Barnes said.

As with the parade, the Summer of the Arts festivals, and Iowa City community are intrinsically linked, Barnes said; more than 600 volunteers helped the other five festivals this summer run smoothly.

“We really rely on individual donations and sponsorships to be able to provide these quality events,” she said. “Without continued support from our community, we might need to cut programming or reduce the options available.”

One performer for this year’s festival is Shade of Blue, a band popular in the 1990s that has hosted annual reunions since 2012. The band combines “many different styles of jazz, New Orleans, R&B, soul, and some good old gut-bucket blues,” said saxophonist and flute-player Saul Lubaroff.

Shade of Blue will perform on the main stage at 7 p.m. Saturday. With over 26 years’ worth of material to draw from, guitarist and vocalist Dave Rosazza said, the band wants the audience to “smile a lot, dance, and enjoy themselves … Forget about life for a while.”

The band keeps coming back to perform, despite the members’ moving or pursuing other projects, Rosazza said, because of how much they enjoy it.

“I formed Shade of Blue in 1989 as a three-piece blues group,” Rosazza said. “This current lineup formed while we were in college. Some of the members were in Voices of Soul at the University of Iowa, where we met Joan and Simone. We just had instant chemistry.”

Another group performing at the Soul Festival, the Amen Choir, draws its “biggest inspiration in our faith … [as well as] our life experiences.”

The Amen Choir comes from the Good News for All Nations Church and includes members who were both born in refugee camps and children of those who left Burundi during the events of the genocide in neighboring Rwanda in 1994.

The band is working on its first album, which will act as a means of supporting the All Nations Church in order to help build a permanent home for the congregation.

A second album may support a cause that has ties to Burundi, said Eddie Niyonizigiye, a performer and the director of Amen Choir.

“If people react well [to the first album], then we actually have another plan to release a second in order to raise money,” Niyonizigiye said. “Because a lot of us were born in refugee camps and a lot of others were born here in America, we’re trying to see if we could raise enough money to take a trip as a group back. It’s a big dream, but that is one dream we have as a choir — if we could go back, because none of us have gone back since [the genocide].”

The group’s main goals, Niyonizigiye said, are to inspire others and educate about the Rwandan genocide’s effect on Burundi.

“A lot of people don’t know things that happened to most people in Africa with the genocide,” he said. “[We are] just trying to inspire people because we were supposed to die, but we were saved to come here. We just didn’t want to sit and do nothing, so we decided to sing and also help other people to know that whenever something seems out of your control, you can make it through. We have a lot of different stories in the group that we want to share if they can really help someone.”

Another event extending beyond the Soul Festival is the Gospel Brunch, at 12.30 p.m. Aug. 30. Tickets, $30, will include performances by Maggie Brown with the Dick Watson Quartet, Bruce Teague, Mama Teague, and Gloria Hardiman.

The event will be full of wonderful food and even better music, said Lisa Baum, the development director at KCCK FM, the jazz station broadcasting from Kirkwood College.

“If you think your plate is full as you begin the brunch, you won’t believe the feeling you’ll have at the end,” she said. “This music not only gets you revved up physically, but the spiritual messages are loud and clear. It’s an opportunity for us to be grateful for all our blessings. No matter if you learned ‘This Little Light of Mine’ as a child; I guarantee you’ll think you are hearing it for the first time when Iowa City vocalist Bruce Teague takes it on.”

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