Jazz heavyweights and artistic emissaries from Africa will mix with New Haven’s finest talent at the International Festival of Arts and Ideas this year. That’s just the way Chad Herzog, co-executive director of the festival and director of programming, wants it, as the festival continues to deal with a tighter state budget by sinking its roots deeper into the Elm City.
Hartford-based artist and poet Zulynette Morales looked down at a sheet of paper in front of her, then back up at the standing-room-only crowd packed into the mineral hall on the third floor of the Peabody Museum Monday afternoon. “Peace to Puerto Rico,” she said. Then she began to sing from a Willie Colón song from the 1970s. “Pronto llegará / El día de mi suerte / Sé que antes de mi muerte / Seguro que mi suerte cambiará.” I know my luck will change before I die.
“Good morning America, how are you?” sang Expression Mondays East cohost Bobcat Carruthers, playing “City of New Orleans” — the Steeve Goodman song that Arlo Guthrie made famous — with guitarist Sal Fusco and Terence Clarke on harmonica.
Others in the audience answered with their own instruments, and another night of sharing and expression began.
When I arrived at the People’s Center on Howe Street, the door was locked and two men were hanging out on the front steps waiting to get in. I introduced myself to Baub OneGod Bidon, the night’s featured performer as well as the founder of the long-running spoken-word open mic Free 2 Spit. I told him I hadn’t wanted to bother him as he was getting ready.
“Next time, you come right on over. When you come here, you’re family. You just come on in. Everybody is welcome here. This is our family and our community,” he said. He set the tone for the entire night.
Artists have a stage and they sure should use it. They could sense dangerous shifts in the body politic before non-artistic citizens do, and they should act on on these instincts. And poets are always in the midst of difficult times — it comes with the profession — so they could guide others when the difficulties spread.
Tyrese Dejesus ran onto the stage of Hill Central and lifted both hands in the air. He puffed out his chest and took a quick, deep breath. Then he looked out into a swelling audience, ready to make an announcement.
“I am not a poet!” he declared.
His peers raised their eyebrows and cocked their heads to listen closely. A few looked as though they were ready to call his bluff. Others waited to hear more.