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story.lead_photo.caption Denisha Cleaves (right) of Memphis and Shakeenah Kadem of Fort Smith perform Saturday during the second annual Africa Day Fest in Little Rock. More photos are available at - Photo by Thomas Metthe

The award for the best-dressed man at the second annual Africa Day Fest in Little Rock went to someone dressed in finery that many Africans wear only on the most special of occasions.

A long black atoghu dress -- with yellow, red and orange patterns -- draped Juain Young, 35, who spent much of his time Saturday stopping to pose for pictures that festivalgoers kept asking to take with him.

"You look so amazing," one said.

It's a royal dress of Cameroon, Young explained of his attire. He bought it from a Cameroonian who lives in Little Rock.

Like himself, Young has friends with Cameroonian heritages.

"They make me feel at home," he said.

Gallery: Africa Day Fest

He also wore a red headdress with black plaid and several necklaces, including a replica of an ancient mask -- a black face with long, thin features, indistinct eyes and a headdress of its own surrounding the face.

Young painted white lines and dots on his face, including a line down the center of his face that stretched through his black goatee.

Sleeves that open down to the bottom of the dress kept it from being too hot on the sunny, 85-degree day, he said. But Young frequently sought shade and waved a fan in front of his face.

Hundreds of people attended Saturday's lively, daylong festival, which featured dancers, clothiers, food vendors, jewelry-makers and a drum circle.

The festival on South Main Street is a side gig for many of the vendors and hobbyists, an organized public market for people to share and sell their goods.

Many attendees wore colorful dashikis -- a West African shirt -- and many chowed down on chapatis, sambusas and Ndengo -- a type of flatbread, a dumpling-like pastry with spiced foods inside, and a bean stew, respectively.

Before the festival came to be, many of the artists now involved knew one another but they did not have a coordinated community or means of sharing their culture, said Madere Toure, a Web designer and artist originally from Senegal.

"It's about time we got to share," Toure said.

The cultural learning experience is what drew Geneva Trammell, 52, to the festival with her three granddaughters, who had painted their faces in white dots before arriving at the event.

Trammell said that in her home she talks about African cultures and has adopted some ways of living that harken back to her roots, such as eating more foods from the garden and using African soaps, popular for having fewer chemicals.

Saturday was her first time going to the festival. "I love it so far," she said.

Many of the vendors make some of the products they sell, and they get some from other local artists.

That's what Melanie Lacey does. She owns Harambee Market on North Little Rock's Main Street, where she sells clothing, African soaps -- called "black soap" because it is literally black -- and other handmade goods.

On Saturday, Lacey helped sell those things with Sistas' Doin' it for Themselves, a Memphis-based vendor.

Rachel Ogumba, 49, said she started her business with little money 12 years ago when she was unemployed and felt that God was pushing her to do it.

She slowly expanded on the products she sells, and now her side job is traveling to festivals and reaching out to other women to help them sell their products, too.

Ogumba doesn't always make money on her endeavors, but she calls her business "a labor of love."

"It's just something about all the colors, pulling it all together. I don't know. It just makes me happy," she said.

Toure, 38, also operates his business, called Hebeni, on the side.

He's a Web designer by profession, and on the side sells mostly local and African-inspired jewelry and other handmade goods at farmers markets.

Toure sells his paintings, too, mostly abstract works of color designs in acrylic on canvas.

Some of the paintings in green, yellow and red -- Pan-African colors -- are on wood depicting the continent of Africa in a message of cultural unity. They're inspired by the Web designs he makes on his computer. He takes some of those ideas home and expresses them in physical media, he said.

"It's a relief," he said.

Photo by Thomas Metthe
Chy’Nah Nellon paints the face of Marcus Jones, 9, during Saturday’s Africa Day Fest in Little Rock.

Metro on 05/27/2018

Print Headline: Festival offers bit of Africa in LR

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