The most ethnically diverse city in the country showcased its dominance this weekend. The city's annual International Festival opened to large crowds of diversity-loving Houstonians. If you have never been to iFest, you still have next weekend to make your way over there. Head downtown toward Tranquility Park and you won't be able to miss it. The festival takes over, what feels like, half of the downtown area. What can newbies expect from iFest? The festival itself is an ethnic kaleidoscope of music, dance, art, shopping and, of course, food! Art Attack took advantage of this weekend's amazing weather to get our culture on.
The best thing to do first, after you curse loudly under your breath about the $10 parking and $17 entrance fee, is to go get yourself a frozen margarita. However, American money is not accepted at food and drink stands in the iFest world, so you must buy yourself a packet of tickets (with real money). Then, find your bearings because the complimentary map is slightly confusing. Once you've gotten it all figured out you are on your way to enjoying some eclectic entertainment.
This year's festival highlights the art and culture of Argentina, and the country was well represented. Over by the HEB Cultural Stage, we caught the tango stylings of Mauro and Elizabeth. Watching the graceful yet seductive moves of the ladies on stage made us put "learn tango" on our artistic bucket list. As luck would have it Mauro and Elizabeth were giving free lessons out all weekend (mental note to check that out).
Over at the African & Caribbean Bazaar we took in one of our favorite events of the weekend, Gabrielle and Friends Children's Boutique's Fashion Show. Who is this Gabrielle? We have no idea, but her young models were adorable. These timid "models of the future" sashayed down a makeshift runway stopping occasionally for loud applause. The African Bazaar is housed by, or maybe in, a tall blue ship, which seconds as an amusement for the kids. Every few hours throughout the festival you can catch Baba Ifalade's African Drumming somewhere near the starboard. After a few beers you might even kick up your heels and dance along to the beat.
We caught the band Espantapajaros over at the 29-95 Stage and didn't feel compelled to stay that long. There was a variety of music over the weekend to catch anyone's fancy. Check out the Rocks Off for more coverage.
We made our way over to the Chevron Living Museum to explore the "Cave of Hands." Patrons are invited to slap some white paint on their mitts and mark up the cave. The cave is a representation of a series of Argentinean caves from Perito Moreno, a place famous for its paintings of hands. The Living Museum also hosts other cultural relics from Argentina. A room filled with traditional gourds that are used to make and "mate," a time-honored drink. If you've ever wondered what that yerba mate in your Kickin' Kombucha looks like, nows your chance to see.
By the evening we finally took in that tango lesson, which is to say we watched regular folk look silly trying to bust a move. We have to give them credit for getting up there and trying something new.
Sunday was a bit quieter, or maybe we just got there at a good time. The slower pace gave us a chance to catch up with a few of the artists showcasing their work. Local photographer Jeremy Keas had a booth of striking images. His helpful friend, he had stepped away, told us about the automaton museum in San Francisco where many of Keas images come from. Mini-electronic worlds from a distant past or a potential future sadly stare out from their 2D confines. We almost bought 20 prints.
We also chatted with Chicago artist Clifton Henri, whose work was the perfect combination of Herb Ritts meets David LaChapelle. Henri photographs evoke a different time when jazz filled the city streets. He photographs in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans; the influences are apparent.
We had been dying to see some traditional Mexican dance and got our wish from the Ambassadors International Ballet Folklorico. Sadly, there was no one selling sombreros or we would have totally bought one and tried to join the dancers on stage. Our second favorite event of the weekend was the four-piece band Latin Carnaval. They played an old-fashioned sound of Latin folk, with hints of Buena Vista Social Club.
The whole weekend was jam-packed with good times, assorted entertainment and enough education to make you feel like you learned something new. If we have any beef with iFest, it's the ticket system. If you over buy tickets you are out of luck because they don't accept any returns. And you will undoubtedly wind up with just enough tickets left at the end of the day to not afford anything. Fortunately for us, the iFest party continues next weekend with more music, dancing, food and cultural delights.