AfriBembé Festival in El Barrio East Harlem

A traditional bembé is a Yoruba religious festival of drumming, dancing and singing meant to connect individuals and the community with the ancestors and divine energies.

In the time of slavery, Africans in the Americas came from different tribes so we often couldn’t speak with each other, but everyone understood the drum.

Back in the day in The Bronx and El Barrio, the drum never stopped.

1st AfriBembé Festival 2019

The AfriBembé Festival is a Pan-African cultural festival and street fair centered around East Harlem Art Park on 120th St between Lexington and Third Ave in El Barrio East Harlem on Sunday, August 18, 2019 from 12pm to 8pm. FREE

The Festival is produced by the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and the Friends of Art Park Alliance.

It features pan-African food, artisanal products, live music and DJs, a pop-up graffiti art exhibition, street fashion show, art activities and more.

The Festival includes culture that is Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Haitian, Honduran, Trinidadian, Brazilian, Malian, South African, St. Vincent and other regions of the African diaspora.

It’s an African family party.

AfriBembé Performers


This band plays its own version of Afro Caribbean soul. It’s a blend of influences from Afrobeat, reggae, calypso, samba, funk and merengue.

Bohio Music

The duo of Riva Nyri Preciland and Monvelyno Alexisare are Haitian racine music artists.

Bohio is one of the Indigenous Taíno names for the island we now call Hispaniola. It means “rich in villages” or “home”. That makes sense because the island was the Taíno heartland with communities on either side in Cuba and Puerto Rico.

Chief Joseph Chatoyer Dance Company

This Garifuna folkloric ballet was founded in 2009.

Garifuna are the fierce Black Carib who fought off the Spanish, but were deported by the British from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to islands off Honduras.

Danaya Band

This Malian band was founded by Aboubacar Dembele, the son of renowned Malian musician Bamba Dembele.

Típica 73

This popular New York Cuban salsa group was founded by members of FANIA All-Star legend Ray Barretto’s band.

Típica means the band follows the standard format of a Cuban charanga with violins. 73 is the year the group was founded.

Original members of the band include now famous solo artists Adalberto Santiago and José “El Canario” Alberto. Johnny “Dandy” Rodriguez Jr now regularly plays at Gonzalez y Gonzalez a salsa dance club in Greenwich Village.

Típica 73 is a veteran of the New York salsa scene.


This all-woman Afro-Caribbean ensemble performs the music and dance of the African diaspora. That includes Cuban guaguancó, Puerto Rican bomba and plena, Dominican merengue, Haitian ibo and banda, and Brazilian samba.

The group is led by Artistic Director Yvette Martinez and Music Director Nancy Friedman. They have performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, SummerStage and many other respected venues.

DJ Laureano


“Afrikan Queen” is from South Africa and Guinea via Harlem. She is a Tropical Jawn ambassador.

Pop-Up Graffiti Experience

The Pop-Up Graffiti Experience is hosted by curator Carlos Jesus Martinez Dominguez. Participants can learn about the history of graffiti, create their own graffiti print and add their own tag to a community mural. Murals are a popular Caribbean cultural expression.


A traditional bembé is a celebration of the Yoruba orishas. It’s a religious festival with drumming, dancing and singing.

The Yoruba are a West African people of the lands around the Gulf of Guinea in parts of what are now Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast.

The Yoruba religion is the dominant African religion in Cuba and around the Caribbean. It’s also in Brazil as Condomblé. The Spanish call it Santería because in order to maintain religious traditions, African slaves syncretized, or blended it, with the Catholic saints of Spanish, Portuguese or French slavers.

Condomblé in Brazil, Vudú in the Dominican Republic, Vodou in Haiti and Voodoo in New Orleans are similar, though unique religions.

We were taught to fear these religions by Christian priests and Hollywood filmmakers, but there is nothing to be afraid of. These are religions just like the more familiar Abrahamic ones.

In fact, the Yoruba people originated in East Africa near the Mediterranean. The character of Yoruba orishas is very similar to the Greek gods of Mount Olympus. They have characteristic human strengths and weaknesses, but because they are gods are able to overcome their failings.

Orishas are sometimes oversimplified as deities or angels, but are more complicated than that. An orisha manifests through the combination of divine energy, a natural force, an ancestor and a religious object.

To understand that, think of when you fell in love and became one with someone. The combination of your energies, your dreams, your families and the things you did together, enabled you to accomplish the impossible. It seemed like things were happening as if by magic, but it was your multidimensional union that made things happen.

The Yoruba language is tonal and Yoruba drums are tuned to speak. Perhaps you’ve heard of talking drums. Well they really talk.

In a traditional bembé, drum, dance, song and color patterns are presented in exactly the same way that they have been presented for thousands of years.

The purpose is to invite the orishas to be present, to make this multidimensional union. When this happens in your life, you are blessed. You will know it, even if you don’t know quite how to explain it.

Fiestas Patronales de Puerto Rico

The AfriBembé Festival is very much like the patron saint festivals that take place every weekend in two or three towns across Puerto Rico and other lands around the Caribbean and the Latin world.

Every little town has a patron saint and every little town has a festival.  There is food, games, carnival characters, parades, and dancing to live music. Everyone participates from abuelas (grandmas) to babies. The entire community turns out and the party goes all night.

It’s the context for a New York street fair. If you’ve never been to one of these festivals, you should fly down to Puerto Rico and join one. You will never regret it or forget it. All you have to do is be open to receiving a lot of joy and love from the community, your community.


We don’t know if the Festival is related to this, but in August in Nigeria we honor Oshún. She is the orisha of love and beauty, fresh water and rivers. She is the patron saint of the Osun River in Nigeria.

You may see Oshún looking into her hand mirror and combing her hair. She is syncretized with Our Lady of El Cobre, the patron saint of Cuba and Our Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil.

The AfriBembé Festival keeps our traditions alive and passes them into the hands of our children.

“Hace algún tiempo, me preguntaba un chiquillo,
por el significado de la palabra patria.
Me sorprendió con su pregunta
y con el alma en la garganta
le dije así”
Patria by Rubén Blades (1998)

For more information, visit

Subscribe  | AdvertiseContact us