Jammin’ in Jamaica

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This year’s Jamaica Arts & Music Summer Festival promises to bring the usual selection of jazz, R&B and hip-hop that has entertained crowds for the last 14 years, but this year the event’s planners are remixing the celebration with a new twist.

Tyra Emerson, the executive director of Cultural Collaborative Jamaica, which founded and organized the show that begins Friday night, said the festival has always been about showcasing the arts and culture of southeast Queens. Since the community’s population has changed over time, the festival’s contemporary inner-city concerts and other programs also evolved to match the 21st century neighborhood.

“The stage is multicultural this year,” she said.

The festival kicks off Friday night at Rufus King Park in Jamaica with the JAMS Under the Stars concert at 6 p.m. that features “oldies but goodies” performances, Emerson said. The biggest act is a performance by Aurora Flores & Zon Del Barrio, the New York-based ensemble that mixes foot stepping, salsa and other Latin beats.

Emerson said she was pleased that the concert would include a performance by gospel singer Vy Higginsen and youth members that she helps instruct through the MAMA Foundation.

“She has her own school now and she’s going to do gospel for teens,” she said. “We’re really happy to have her.”

The concert also includes a performance by multi-generational Indian dancers from Queens. Emerson said the act not only reflects the growing South Asian population in the neighborhood, but also the increased popularity of that culture among the population.

Saturday’s main celebration will kick off with those new cultural sounds as well, with a performance from AMAN Tassa Drum Group. The South Richmond Hill-based ensemble features South Asian beats and is also a new act for the all-day celebration, according to Emerson.

The executive director and planning board worked diligently over the last couple of months to line up acts, particularly seeking up-and-coming bands in the area. Cultural Collaborative Jamaica held open auditions for this year’s JAMS and allowed online auditioning.

The use of the Internet in their planning provided Emerson and her staff with a wide variety of artists to choose from.

“We actually got a lot more than we thought. A lot of them have their stuff on Facebook and MySpace,” she said.

The event, which will take place on a 10-block stretch of Jamaica Avenue between Parsons Boulevard and 169th Street, will also use the Internet to reach fans around the world, as it will have a live Twitter stream that will allow people to follow the musical acts all day, Emerson said.

Aside from the tunes, JAMS will have other attractions to entertain the expected 150,000 visitors.

Rides and games will be available for children, and vendors from stores and businesses in southeast Queens will be on hand providing merchandise and food for visitors.

Although the festival is meant to entertain, Emerson said this year they are working to help instruct families on how to fight a growing problem in the community: obesity. Taking a cue from first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, this year’s JAMS festival will have several workshops on how to eat healthy and get fit.

A chef and nutritionist will be available for visitors and offer two classes on cooking, according to Emerson.

“One is on how children can prepare meals [themselves] that are uncomplicated and healthy,” she explained. “Another one teaches families and children how to cook together.”

Emerson said that over the last 14 years, the JAMS crowd has grown and with the new acts and programs offered at this year’s celebrations, she hopes it brings in more people so they can see how culturally diverse southeast Queens is.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4546.

If You Go

JAMS Under the Stars

When: Friday, Aug. 6

Where: Rufus King Park, Jamaica Avenue and 153rd Street

Schedule of performers:

Welcome: 6 p.m.-6:30 p.m.

Boots-STEPPERS (Mic-Steppers Feet): 7 p.m.

Sheena Lee: 7:20 p.m.

CC Indian performers: 7:40 p.m.

MAMA Foundation-Gospel for Teens: 8:10 p.m.

Aurora Flores and Zon Del Barrio: 8:40 p.m.

JAMS Festival

Where: Jamaica Avenue between Parsons Boulevard and 169th Street

When: Aug. 7, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.

Schedule of performers:

Aman Tassa Drum Group: 11:30 a.m.

V Boys Band: 12 p.m.

Pamela Powell: 12:30 p.m.

Sheena N Vani’s Bollywood Dancers: 1 p.m.

CCC Youth Choir: 1:30 p.m.

Craig Crawford Players: 2 p.m.

Emperor Adichie African Music and Dance: 2:50 p.m.

Robbie Nova: 3:40 p.m.

Libra & Co.: 4 p.m.

Rose Royce: 4:50 p.m.

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