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Ali Crimmins knows well that the flavor of Columbus’ Ethnic Expo international festival is a literal matter.
“I’d say the food probably is No. 1,” said Crimmins, coordinator for the past several years of Columbus’ best-attended event. “And the entertainment is a close No. 2.”
There will be plenty of each at the free gathering Oct. 11-12 along First and Washington streets downtown.
The late Barbara Stewart, wife of former Mayor Robert N. Stewart, founded the event in 1984 to promote ethnic and cultural diversity. Columbus was seeing big growth in both at the time, as it was home to two Fortune 500 firms.
Hosts at this year’s Expo are Trinidad and Tobago — that means that the entertainment on tap will feature an island feel.
The Afrophysicists, an eight-piece ensemble based in Louisville, will perform as one of the headliners at 8 p.m. Oct. 11 with as genre known as afrobeat.
“If you mix James Brown with a (Nigerian) sound from west African high life, you’d have a pretty close approximation,” said Gary Pahler, the group’s drummer. “It’s very funky.”
And heavy on the horns and percussion, thanks to originator Fela Kuti.
The group expects to entertain with a mix of originals and covers in a 90-minute set. And though organizers say attendees have requested more chairs to watch Expo acts, Pahler acknowledged he and his peers hope their audience won’t exactly need them, unless it’s to rest from dancing.
“That’s the idea,” he said.
A similar group and an additional headliner, Chicago’s De Hurricane Band, will perform at 6 p.m. Oct. 12 with reggae, Calypso, and jazz — “a true Caribbean vibe ... for a taste of real island culture,” according to the group’s Facebook page. Costumed dancers will accompany the group.
But Expo is known for bringing diverse sections of the world to Columbus’ doorstep. And some of that diversity can be found within single acts such as Appalatin, also from Louisville. The name comes from the fact that the act includes Kentucky-raised musicians mixed with Latin émigrés from Ecuador, Nicaragua and Guatemala.
Their all-acoustic performances feature guitar, mandolin, upright bass, and charango, indigenous Andean flutes, hand percussion and harmonica.
Guitarist Yani Vozos calls their sound a blend of cumbia, similar to salsa, and Kentucky bluegrass. He mentioned that the group was a big hit playing for hours on the streets of Louisville on Kentucky Derby day.
“It’s just such a joyous event,” Vozos said. “There was a lot of improv, (a lot) of continuous playing.”
So the music promises to be perhaps as spicy as some of the food at the 29 booths at the event, where an average meal is about $5.
Other acts range from Latin and Indian dance to Celtic tunes. Yet, sounds of the hosts will remain nearby. The Columbus Area Arts Council’s Tami Sharp, who books acts for the event, has made certain of that.
“Steel pan music,” she said, “will be the flowing throughout.”
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