Wake County and the City of Raleigh launch the African American Cultural Festival in style, filling the entertainment schedule with stars of local, national and international stages. Today's headliner, Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, formed in a Guinean refugee camp during the decade-long civil war in its West African homeland, an experience that certainly colors the messages of its songs. The Refugee's warm, harmony-rich Afrobeat retains an unfailing optimism, though, from which we could all learn. Triangle hip-hop hotshots Kooley High return again from Brooklyn, prefacing the All Stars with a flashback to the days of those carefree, verse-swapping crews with lyrical wit and crate-digging habits. Smooth jazz instrumentalists Mixed Water and massive funk 'n' soul ensemble John Brown and the Groove Shop Band play Saturday, too.
Sunday brings both the funky, family-band style, sacred steel of The Lee Boys and the secular shouts of New Orleans' Soul Rebels Brass Band, split by a set from Durham saxophonist Marcus Anderson. But Chuck Brown is undoubtedly the day's highlight: Rightfully known as the "Godfather of go-go," Brown built the infectious D.C. sound—characterized by intoxicating, syncopated beats and call-and-response chants—that's best experienced live.
The free festival begins at 11 a.m. each day with art, vendors and side stage performances at the Family Arts Village.—Spencer Griffith