It's a first! Black Music Festival celebrates community through music, food and unity

·3 min read
Kimberly Hinds of Worcester and her daughter, Sasiya, 13, dance Saturday under the umbrellas set up on Worcester Common for the Black Music Festival. It was the first project for the grassroots organization, The Uncommonwealth Group.
Kimberly Hinds of Worcester and her daughter, Sasiya, 13, dance Saturday under the umbrellas set up on Worcester Common for the Black Music Festival. It was the first project for the grassroots organization, The Uncommonwealth Group.

WORCESTER — Music, sunshine and community unity found a superb venue Saturday outside City Hall for the inaugural Black Music Festival.

More than 500 people listened to music by artists ranging in ages 13 to 70, who performed on a stage erected at the top of the stairs leading to City Hall and facing Worcester Common.

Vendors lined the sidewalks around the Common, while music beats bumped through the air.

Genres included hip-hop, jazz, R&B and gospel music. Jamaican, Ghanian and Liberian artists also took the stage.

Nathanael Abaidoo, left, and Willette Offori perform Saturday as Willette and Sensei N8 on Worcester Common during the Black Music Festival.
Nathanael Abaidoo, left, and Willette Offori perform Saturday as Willette and Sensei N8 on Worcester Common during the Black Music Festival.

Charles Luster, who organized the event and is co-founder and chairman of the grassroots organization, The Uncommonwealth Group, said June was chosen for the festival to celebrate Black Music Month.

“We're excited, because we tried to gather the entire Black community by doing this,” Luster said. “That includes African Americans, the African community, the Jamaican community. As long as your skin’s black, we’re trying to play that music.”

Luster said that The Uncommonwealth Group was established in February to promote and provide mentorship for Black men aspiring to own businesses.

He said that the festival was the first of many projects that are in the works under the organization.

K Fingers, a Worcester native and New England-based R&B, hip-hop, and jazz-funk, keyboardist, producer, composer and performer plays with saxophonist Bobby J, left, during the Black Music Festival on Worcester Common.
K Fingers, a Worcester native and New England-based R&B, hip-hop, and jazz-funk, keyboardist, producer, composer and performer plays with saxophonist Bobby J, left, during the Black Music Festival on Worcester Common.

Luster said the inspiration for his organization's name was in reference to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the economic issues of the Black community.

“(We) picked the name Uncommonwealth because it’s uncommon for us to have wealth to do things that we want to do in the community,” said Luster.

Worcester's Jeffrey Jenkins attended the festival to hear gospel music, but above all, he said he appreciated the unity of Black communities of all nationalities.

“I hope we have more of it,” Jenkins said. “I’m going on 67 (years old) and I’ve seen people lose appreciation for Black culture here in Worcester. We need more exposure.”

Moses Laguerre, co-founder and president of The Uncommonwealth Group, said even though the festival aimed to promote Worcester’s Black community, everyone was invited to attend.

“President Jimmy Carter established Black Music Month in 1979, because of the impact that Black music has had in the world,” Laguerre said. “With this festival, we are trying to bring that same appreciation to Worcester.”

Elijah Abernathy of Worcester was one of the performers Saturday.

He said that he was anxious to sing R&B covers.

Performer K Fingers, of Worcester, acknowledges the crowd Saturday after his set along with saxophonist Bobby J, right, on Worcester Common during the Black Music Festival.
Performer K Fingers, of Worcester, acknowledges the crowd Saturday after his set along with saxophonist Bobby J, right, on Worcester Common during the Black Music Festival.

“Black music is like good food,” Abernathy said. “Different genres are different flavors.

“Music is always around (Black) culture, but this is the first one celebrating exactly that and it’s pretty cool."

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, the city of Worcester has become home to Miguel Santiago for the past two years.

He expressed excitement to attend an event that celebrated Black music and similar to events that he had attended in his native Atlanta.

“Everything they bring on here today I’m looking forward to,” Santiago said. “I’m glad they have a lot of Afrobeat, I’m definitely looking forward to hip hop.”

Lisa Bonofiglio said she moved back after the pandemic after a few years of not living in Worcester.

She attended the festival Saturday and said that events like it bring a sense of unity to the city.

“Just looking through the vendors today and other events in Worcester, you can easily see that there’s more representation,” Bonofiglio said. “I like that there are more community events like this one because it promotes unity in the city.”

This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Black Music Festival celebrates community with a unifying beat on Worcester Common