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Kuumba Yeah

DIY festival celebrates grassroots creation

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Tired of the same old? Want some variety in your life? Then get ready for Kuumba Fest, which promises to be one of the most diverse events in NEFla. Organized by Jax concert promoter David Kennedy and musician E.J. Hervey, the unique shindig features more than a dozen musicians and visual artists.

The concept is an extension of the Bughouse, Kennedy’s now-defunct DIY venue and home. A musician himself, Kennedy noticed that Jacksonville had lost lots of venues in recent years, so in 2018 he opened up his own living room to local and touring acts. He hoped the Bughouse would become a node around which to build a local community of music fans. His goal: to encourage folks to stay for the duration of a show instead of splitting after their friends’ band’s set–and leaving the unfortunate “headliner” to play to no one.

It was a success, at least among young music-lovers. One anonymous interlocutor wasn’t as chuffed. After months of neighborhood harmony, a single complaint brought the landlord down on the Bughouse. Now Kennedy is bringing that same homespun spirit to larger venues throughout the area.

Enter E.J. Hervey, a Jax musician currently living in Orlando. Hervey has been connected with the Bughouse for about a year, having performed at the venue–he even celebrated his EP release there. In the process, he fell in love with the vibe that Kennedy had been cultivating. Hervey and Kennedy remained in touch and eventually decided to collaborate on a grander scale, to bring the Bughouse’s spirit of positivity to the masses.

“Jacksonville has a vibrant arts community,” Kennedy told Folio Weekly. “We want to bridge the gap between the different worlds that are emerging.”

The goal of Kuumba Fest is to expand the scene and let Jax music fans see a side of the city that they might not have noticed often.

It’s a charitable event as well. Kennedy has a history of working with local LGBTQ organization JASMYN. He also donated to the families of last summer’s mass shooting at The Jacksonville Landing. He and Hervey decided to donate a portion of Kuumba Fest proceeds to the Jacksonville Arts & Music School (JAMS), which facilitates creativity in underserved neighborhoods.

Kennedy and Hervey both believe that giving back to the community is vital for any music scene. They both know how expensive art supplies and music lessons can be, so they were understandably excited to help these young people get access to tools to help them be creative.

“It’s a privilege to be creative and JAMS is giving children the ability to create,” says Hervey.

When it came to choosing musicians and visual artists, the Kuumba committee selected participants who were, in Hervey’s words, “diverse in every sense of the word.” He wanted to make sure that artists of all walks of life would have a chance to share their works with the public, regardless of color, gender or sexuality.

The lineup is incredibly diverse, featuring a wide array of musicians. Rappers Simpo and The Black Toilet share the stage with the jazz-funk stylings of Stank Sauce. Other musicians include queer singer and rapper GeeXella, singer-songwriter Matilda and electronic pop duo Colorknot. Rounding out the list of performers are R&B artists Akaimarje and Drew on the internet.

Visual artists include Jadyn Art, Ashy Artt, Kenny, Kevin Mierez-Galo and Kiyomi, as well as Gabs Mara, Val and Acquired Heart.

If you’re wondering about the name, “Kuumba” is a Swahili word that means “creativity.” It’s the theme of Kwanzaa’s sixth day of celebration. And Hervey feels a special connection to it. While studying at Harvard, his mother, Dr. Joy Gorham Hervey, performed in a black history choir called Kuumba. Her son loved what they did on stage so much that he was inspired to use the name for this festival.

When asked what the future holds for Kuumba Fest, both Hervey and Kennedy say they are dedicated to making this an ongoing project. Many artists wanted to be involved, but couldn’t due to scheduling issues. So don’t be surprised to see future Kuumba Fests, celebrating creativity all around us.

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