Close the live streaming app, turn off the computer and rejoice. Live entertainment is back in Bayonne. After a one-year hiatus for reasons everyone is tired of talking about, the Bridge Arts Festival will resume on Saturday, September 11th at Dennis Collins Park on 1st Street.
This year’s festival represents the restoration of art and community. For the artists, it’s more of a rebirth than a return to normal. Many booked for last year’s cancelled event are returning to finish what they started. They’ve emerged from their artist lairs anew.
“I was just starting to release music with my band when the pandemic hit,” said Gina D’Soto, 24. “Now things are picking up more and more, so it’s really exciting to have more shows. Performing is the greatest thing ever.”
D’Soto moved from Havana, Cuba to Montreal when she was 8 years old on a scholarship to study classical piano and jazz voice. As a teenager, she performed at many of the region’s world-renowned jazz clubs and festivals. Her music is a fusion of jazz, soul, and Cuban music.
D’Soto later moved to Jersey City and has friends from Bayonne. She’s now in Harlem and since reopening has performed everywhere from the National Chess Museum to the 5PM Porch Concerts series in Brooklyn, where performances are hosted on porches instead of interior venues.
Art can’t be separated from the artists, and the artist can’t be separated from their identity. Part of what makes the Bridge Arts Festival special is its embrace of the whole artist. Sharing stories through music and art builds a community’s collective conscience and keeps tradition alive.
“I’m expecting for people to get to know my roots and where I come from,” said D’Soto. “The music I write is to uplift the spirits of everyone.”
It’s your chance to do the dance
Bayonne audiences likely aren’t familiar with Moko Jumbie unless they’re from Trinidad like Jason Kaisokahusa Edwards. You can’t miss Jason. He’ll be one of the guys on stilts, dancing 10 feet above the ground to West Indian soba and calypso music.
“When I’m on my stilts, nothing else matters. It’s a different feeling,” said Edwards. “I’m on top of the world and I’m making people smile and happy. Hopefully I can get some people up and dancing with us.”
Moko Jumbie is more than a dance to be observed. The art form of stilt dancing started in Africa where it was part of ceremonies meant to protect a village. Eventually, the tradition made its way to the Caribbean and was nearly forgotten until its revival in the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival.
“When I think about the Caribbean Trinidadian culture, for me it’s about everyone helping each other. You can always go to your neighbor’s house and get a plate of food,” said Edwards. “It’s important to preserve these traditions because as we get older, we want the younger generations to keep it going. We want to show kids that there are different things they can do that are culturally valuable while being successful in life.”
Edwards founded Kaisokah Moko Jumbies USA, Inc. an educational and performative stilt dancing company that boasts over 50 members, many with relatives in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, or St. Croix.
Edwards, now 35, didn’t learn Moko Jumbie until he was 19. He moved to Brooklyn with his mother as a teenager. American culture has a way of repressing traditions. Ancestors and ceremonies don’t find you. It takes affirmative effort to preserve.
“It took me a long time to do it,” said Edwards of the dance. It led him to preserving West Indian traditions and ways of life.
“People should look into their history. Hopefully they find something they can connect to,” said Edwards. “Without our past and traditions, we have no future. Without people doing what they did in the past, we wouldn’t have the world we have today.”
The Bridge Arts Festival showcases art in all its forms. Gina D’Soto is bringing Cuban-inspired music, Jason Kaisokahusa Edwards brings his traditional dance, and Maria Lupianez is bringing visual art.
A contemporary realist, multimedia painter, art teacher, and mother of ten, Lupianez got her start in New Jersey where she graduated from New Jersey City University and worked under well-known artists to hone her craft in oil painting. She has relatives from Ecuador and is part of a growing community of artists in the New Jersey/New York region.
Lupianez’s art is extraordinary and beautiful. It celebrates life’s simplicities and love of family and community. Her subjects range from children and elders to a slice of a pie, and a pigeon whose head is buried in its feathers mid-groom.
“It’s funny because my actual life is very chaotic and spontaneous, but I don’t paint that,” said Lupianez. “I strive to paint positivity and serenity. I think I do that because in my chaos it’s hard for me to stop and smell the roses and I want to remind myself to do that.”
Lupianez’s paintings will be on sale at the festival, along with many other artists. She hopes that her art connects with the people and she loves to hear about it.
“I have this belief that if art is relatable and you can personally connect with it then that’s what makes it good,” said Lupianez. “Art should evoke an emotion and you should feel some type of connection with it. I share my own personal experiences through each piece thinking that someone else might relate to me. When we relate to each other we feel a small connection and that builds a community.”
Through organizing the festival and hosting artists year-round at the Bridge Art Gallery, building community has been the ultimate goal for Cheryl and Christopher Mack.
“This year’s festival focuses on the strength of our community,” said Cheryl Mack. “The last year has been full of challenges for us all, especially for the creative arts. As we gather safely together at First Street Park, we will celebrate all the wonderful aspects of the arts that reminds us that we are stronger together.”
Festival Goers should expect to bask in the simple and joyous beauty of art, in all its forms, and all its places. Welcome back, everyone.