Watts Towers Arts Center hosts two days of music

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

WATTS — The city Department of Cultural Affairs is planning a weekend full of celebratory events commemorating the 102nd anniversary of the Watts Towers Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at the Watts Towers Arts Center Campus, 1727 E. 107th St,

The 41st annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 30 followed the next day by the 46th annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival, also from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

Both festivals are free and include cultural performances, arts educational opportunities for youth and food vendors to celebrate Nuestro Pueblo — Spanish for our town.

“These festivals bring community members together, fostering a sense of unity, belonging, and solidarity,” said Daniel Tarica, general manager of the Department of Cultural Affairs. “The annual festivals are some of the longest-running in Los Angeles celebrating inter-generational culture, traditions and heritage. 

“The Watts Towers Arts Center Campus serves as a beacon for creativity, empowerment and determination. We invite everyone to join in the celebration of the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.”

Rosie Lee Hooks, Watts Towers Art Center campus director said, “The annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival have entertained local residents for decades, fostering civic pride and engagement.’

“The Watts Towers Arts Center Campus and our sponsor organizations play a vital role in preserving culture, contributing to the local economy and well-being, and introducing historical and cultural awareness through the support of the festivals,” Hooks said. “The festivals continue to boost community pride and further strengthen a sense of place.”

An all-star line-up of international recording artists, local jazz greats, percussionists and dancers will perform during the two-day celebration, under the artistic direction of Hooks, and musicians Patrice Rushen and Munyungo Jackson.

Jackson, 73, a Los Angeles native, is a highly respected and sought-after percussionist.

“I’ve been involved with this celebration for about 15 years,” said Jackson, who is married to actress, director and producer Iona Morris. “Before I got involved, I used to hear about the event. Anything that has a drum in it, I’m attracted to.”

Jackson, who has been a percussionist since he was a teenager in high school, said the festivals are “culturally significant.”

“This celebration is important because we want to join the different cultures,” said Jackson, who began his music career playing classical piano. “Every year we try to present different cultures during The Day of the Drum. This is important because the drumming is about the culture.”

Jackson will play percussion as part of the JMP Allstars, which includes Rushen, Bobby Rodriguez and Reggie Hamilton.

The group is scheduled to play at the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival at 4:45 p.m. Oct. 1. The event is co-hosted by spoken word artists Kamau Daaood and Dee Dee McNeil, both of whom will also perform and co-host the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival as well.

Others set to perform that day include Alaadun, Melvin Lee Davis and Friends, featuring Derek Bordeaux, Kevin Flourney and Jeffery B. Suttles; Food4Thought, Queen Socks and Love; Ray Bailey and Friends, and The World Stage Big Band.

The lineup for the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival includes Xochipilli, Korean Classical Music and Dance Company, SHINE Mawusi, Garifuna Cultural Group, Magatte Fall, featuring LaVoix, and Just Rhythms and Rhymes featuring Tony Austin (drums), Mic Holden (percussion and MC), Kahill Cummings (percussions) and Brian Collier (drums).

The Watts Towers are an iconic work of folk art with a back story.

It took Simon Rodia, an eccentric Italian immigrant working alone in his yard, 35 years to build the Watts Towers with nothing but his hands and a few simple tools. It is mostly made of steel rebar, wire mesh, concrete and whatever else he could get his hands on.

The towers, now more than 100 years old, have inspired an entire artistic community in the underserved neighborhood.

Today, the towers are protected as a state park and under conservation through a city contract with the L.A. County Museum of Art.

“I was a teenager when I first visited the towers,” Jackson said. “I thought they were quite interesting rising into the sky. It’s a landmark that represents so much.”

The festivals’ activities are complemented by exhibitions at the Noah Purifoy and Charles Mingus Galleries — “Black, Brown and Beige.”

The festivals also will feature a drum pavilion and universal drum circle led by Matt Gibson III. There also will be supervised children’s activities from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Food and beverages and arts and crafts will be available for sale throughout the day.

All of the events are free and open to the public.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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