Okai to perform drums & Haitian rhythms

Okai plays the conch, a traditional addition to Haitian music.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

Haitian-American musician Okai Fleurimond will introduce the traditional drum rhythms of Haiti on July 29 at the Pelham Art Center in Pelham, New York. Open to all ages, the free performance starts at 1:30 pm at the center, a mere eight miles north of the Bronx.

After the music performance there will be a workshop on making your own personal flag or bandana led by Rebecca Mills who teaches regularly at the center “We will be using colors and markers to create our own personal flags or bandannas as cultures have applied symbolism to create theirs,” she saids.

Brooklyn-born Okai discovered drumming at the age of five with two kitchen knives and a bucket; his Haitian immigrant parents exposed him to a variety of rhythms. A musician of this generation, he found musical influences from hip-hop, pop music and beat boxing as well as his singing in the church choir and his being the official conga player for the Carnarsie High School band.

Okai developed an intimate connection with the djembe (a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands, originally from West Africa) because of its variety of tones and introduced this instrument to the hip-hop community.

Representing the music of the African Diaspora, Okai drums and is the vocalist and rapper in several bands based in Brooklyn, performing nationally and internationally as well as locally.

He is the lead vocalist and percussionist — and you can see these engaging multi-cultural bands around town — Brown Rice Family — a multi-cultural world music band encompassing reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, afro beat, jazz stylings, rock, Brazilian, and Latin; StringsNSkins — classical sound of the violin and the rhythmic pulse of the djembe, which combines the fusions of classical, pop, traditional and urban; and Underground Horns — an audio gumbo Brooklyn-based brass band specializing in Afro-funk-New Orleans grooves.

The Pelham Art Center has evolved since its founding in 1970, embracing new media while continuing to provide instruction in traditional art techniques. Its aim is to make art accessible to everyone through a range of programs including art education, affordable art classes, and need-based scholoarships.

Beginners to accomplished artists and students, from age three to over 90, who want to explore their creative potential have flourished by working with their teaching artists.

Ten free folk arts programs throughout the year honor world culture and arts traditions. Okai Fleurimond’s presentation is part of this program. Other programming has celebrated the cultural folk arts of Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan, Argentina, Hawaii, and Haiti.

While the summer drawing and painting, ceramics, photography and knitting classes have already begun, the Saturday morning advanced-beginner / intermediate knitting class allows for drop-ins (at $30 a day) who can glean guidance with project and yarn selection, and techniques.

Summer teen and youth one-week programs continue through the summer and full-day painting classes in mid-August are coming up.

The Pelham Art Center is located 155 Fifth Ave., Pelham, New York. 914-738-2525 x111; www.pelhamartcenter.org.

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