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Festival Africa 

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Drumming up Support

Healdsburg Armory gears up for the arts with Festival Africa

By Paula Harris

WHEN VICTOR Hall took on the full-time job as commander of the acting reserve guard at the Healdsburg Armory in April, he had a specific vision: to garner armory improvement funds from the world of music and arts--preferably without involving any dogs. Dogs?

"One way armories create funds is by renting out the building for events," he explains. "And I last worked at Concord Armory where regular dog shows were the main source of funding."

Hall recalls that he spent so much time "cleaning up dog poop and picking up dog hairs" that he decided that if he was to put effort into increasing the rentability of his new baby--the Healdsburg Armory--he'd have to ditch the canine carnivals and pursue some other source of revenue.

"I decided to target a specific group--people who want to take part in arts and music--because that's where my soul is," he says.

So Hall, who in his other guise is keyboard player for local world-beat band Midnight Sun, began his quest. The result is an unlikely new alliance between the U.S. Army and the Healdsburg Arts Council. "Talk about strange bedfellows," says Mary Stratton, executive director of the Healdsburg Arts Council, with a laugh. "It's certainly an interesting partnership."

The arts council is working with Hall to transform the 50-year-old concrete military installation into a new arts venue. So far, renovations have included new landscaping, interior improvements, and a portable stage (built by Hall himself), which can be set up and then broken down after performances.

"We're all just pouring ourselves into this," says Stratton, who is also involved in the building's makeover and is sewing 30 10-foot-long fabric wall panels to improve the acoustics for musical events.

"It's especially exciting for the arts council in Healdsburg because we don't have a physical facility that's an arts center," she explains. "We have a very small office and we offer programming, but we do it in various venues throughout the community, so we're always seeking out locations. Then Victor came forward and offered the armory for a lot of things we wanted to do, plus the timing was great."

Hall touts the armory (which event organizers say has the capacity for 1,000 people) as an easy-access, low-cost alternative to traditional Healdsburg venues such as Villa Chanticleer. He says a non-profit organization can rent the armory space for $17 an hour.

On Nov. 13, the first event to be held at the revamped armory will be the third annual Festival Africa (held last year at the Sebastopol Community Center)--an exhilarating six-hour bash celebrating the commonalties between the music and culture of ancient Africa, the Americas, and Europe.

"Our goal in doing these events is to bring us as people to celebrate all the things we have in common and show how our cultures interact," says Festival Africa coordinator John Chapman, who is also president of Tribal Records, a Santa Rosa-based music production company. "If you delve into each of our cultures there are so many things that we have in common, yet we spend so much time pointing out the things that are different about us. If we would get into the things we had in common we could really uplift ourselves as human beings."

Festival Africa will bring traditional world music to the forefront with performances by the African Rhythm Messengers (whose band members hail mainly from Nigeria) and Midnight Sun. There will also be drum-circle instruction, arts and crafts, spices and scents, tribal dance and African aerobics instruction, and plenty of authentic African food provided by the arts council, such as spicy Moroccan chicken with garbanzo beans over couscous.

Festival Africa is just the first of a whole series of concerts slated for the Healdsburg Armory, says Chapman. There are plans for a reggae show and Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in January, a Cajun show in February, a Celtic festival in March, and a Cinco de Mayo celebration in May.

"We're working to bring new arts and cultures into the north part of the county," says Chapman. "We want to expand our horizons."

Presumably, dogs aren't invited.

Festival Africa takes place from 6 p.m. to midnight, Saturday, Nov. 13, at the Healdsburg Armory, 900 Powell St., Healdsburg. Tickets are $10; children under 12 get in free. For details, call 433-0705.

From the November 11-17, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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