Shake Your Dashiki 

The St. Louis African Arts Fair spotlights one of America's most important cultural influences

The annual St. Louis African Arts Festival closes May with four days of exotic fun, including live music, dance troupes, kids' activities, good food, a marketplace of gifts, and cultural and artsy events.

The African Heritage Association of St. Louis sponsors live music by the Youth of Harambee Institute with drummer Kenya Ajanaku, Sunshine and the Community Performance Ensemble, Kolamanjaro, the gospel sounds of the Dello Thedford Ensemble, the Ptah Williams Jazz Trio and reggae musician Frankie Wilmot.

Performing African troupes include AFI-AMA, the South African Gum Boot Dancers and the Ghanaian singers and dancers of Odadda! Bring blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy the music and dancing.

Children's activities include West African mask-making, storytelling by Taifa and Bobby Norfolk, percussion and puppet workshops with Jackie and Glenn "Papa" Wright, a parent-child scavenger hunt, and sculpture and rain-stick-making workshops.

Shoppers will dig the African market of artifacts, jewelry and clothing, and creatives will enjoy jewelry-making and hair-braiding workshops, culinary demonstrations and head- and body-wrapping instruction. Don't miss the colorful Nigerian Bridal Show, the tour of African and African-American art at the St. Louis Art Museum or the food vendors offering African, Jamaican and American fare.

The festival's featured performers are the Mahotella Queens, who present a concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in the art museum's auditorium. These three strong-voiced South African women protested apartheid in song during the 1960s and '70s with the "Lion of Soweto," singer Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini, and saxophonist/producer West Nkosi. Now approaching age 60, the ladies have reunited to perform their funk-pop-gospel for new audiences, becoming the darlings of the world-music circuit.

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