On Saturday, February 29 Jamaicans and friends of Jamaica in South Florida filled the Great Hall of the Charles F. Dodge City Center in Pembroke Pines for Willie Stewart’s Rhythms of Africa Music Around The World concert. This 8th presentation of the event was a fitting musical celebration of Black History Month and Reggae Month 2020. Over 500 persons were turned away as the event was sold out, with a crowd of 2,650 patrons.
Rhythms of Africa was conceptualized by former Third World drummer Willie Stewart, and was first presented ten years ago in the City of Miramar, Florida. In Willie’s own words, the purpose of the project is to “empower and enlighten our youth and community to the importance of music to feed your soul and spirit. To show the world our rich musical heritage, and to demonstrate that music gives you a sense of pride, purpose, belonging, hope, discipline, coordination, enjoyment, unity and self worth”. To achieve this the Rhythms of Africa project is executed through the non-profit Embrace Music Foundation working in conjunction with young musicians trained and mentored by Willie Stewart. This year’s concert included talented young musicians from Pembroke Pines Charter High School, who, after just 30 hours of instruction, bonded and gelled into an electrifying and riveting percussion ensemble, the heartbeat of the musical presentation.
The Broadway style concert presentation conducted by Willie takes you on a musical journey without leaving your seats, (except to dance), with music from Africa North, South, East & West, South America, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, New Orleans, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago. A very impressive list of established musicians and vocalists representing the musical traditions of these territories and countries were on stage along with dancers to tell the story of the heritage and journey of Rhythms of Africa Music Around the World. Included among them were Jesse Jones, Nicole Yarling, Que the Wiz, Shanna Lee, Dottie Damaris Montijo, Enoch Bordes Bobby Rose, Leroy Romans, Vinni Hamilton, Frank Burt, Professor Clarence Charles, Carlos Pianas, Kevin Jarrett, Jhefte Pierre, Christian Escobar, Jose Ruiz, Claudens Louis, Selena Serrano and Gabriella Torres.
An official salute to Reggae Month was the featured attraction of the event, with performances by Richie Stephens, Pluto Shervington, Etana, and Wayne Armond of Chalice. Jamaica’s Consul General to Florida Oliver Mair made another of his now popular impromptu stage appearances as a Dancehall performer.
Willie Stewart takes the Third World Band title “Reggae Ambassadors” further with a sincere mission to share his knowledge and experience with people of all ages. His commitment to working with children, youth, and teachers in ways that can uplift, unite motivate, empower, and inspire has lead to the creation of a variety of performances and workshops, which he calls Solutions in Music. Workshop topics address issues of history, culture, stress reduction, and team building. At the same time they are creative, educational, and versatile, and always entertaining. Participants of all ages are motivated by his infectious enthusiasm. He has received overwhelming positive praise for the variety of programs offered by Solutions in Music form corporate America, schools, universities, and communities around the globe, and his projects have been featured by PBS, WLRN, NBC, CBS, ABC, BECON, Miami Herald, Broward Herald, and the Sun-Sentinel.
Rhythms of Africa 2020 was presented in association with the City of Pembroke Pines, and in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the community the Mayor of Pembroke Pines Frank C. Ortiz was on hand to present to Willie Stewart the official proclamation declaring February 29, 2020 William Stewart Day. Jamaica’s Consul General to Florida Oliver Mair appropriately summed things up with his remark, “I am extremely proud of the work being done by Willie Stewart and friends, especially as it relates to our youth. His show was simply fantastic and was a great end to Reggae Month”.
Photography credits to Howard Levy