For years, IMAN has thought of expanding its Community Café series nationally, but has been careful and thoughtful in going forward with this expansion. In 2009 and again in 2010, IMAN took Community Café to New York for what turned out to be two of our most successful events. We knew, then, that we would be doing the same in Washington DC, as we had launched an IMAN DC Initiative at that time. A couple of years later, the IMAN DC Initiative had birthed Project REACH DC, an independent non-profit organization focused on community development through youth engagement. Project REACH’s focus also included plans for Community Café DC.
This Community Café, appropriately themed “Reach Beyond…,” allowed IMAN and Project REACH to formally partner, and for Project REACH to gain first hand experience from IMAN and its model of art for social change and cultural organizing for community transformation. After a year of planning, Community Café: Reach Beyond… finally came to Washington DC, in an underserved neighborhood in which Project REACH does most of its work.
Community Café, as usual, brought together a diverse group of artists with a group of very dedicated volunteers that made the event a success. IMAN mainstays, Brother Ali and Maimouna Youssef hosted the night and made sure the audience was both entertained by their humor and impromptu performances, as well as educated about the work of IMAN in Chicago and Project REACH in DC. After two special performances by stellar vocalist Michelle Strucke and comedian Raad Missmar, the first featured artist was local favorite, Leftist. All three performers received great energy from the crowd and Leftist proved they were a live band that can’t be categorized in a single genre, but can definitely become favorites of any audience. The powerful lyrical “beast”, emcee Quadir Lateef followed Leftist and took the energy of the show to the next level, especially when he surprised the crowd by bringing out Brother Ali and Maimouna during his set. FEW Collective were next and switched things on the audience with a fifteen minute all dance set. Bravemonk, Inlight, Krillan and DJ Man-O-Wax held the crowd captive with several different dance styles set to house music, hip hop, and break beats.
The first half of the show had enough talent for an entire show, but there was a lot more going on at this Community Café. Visual artists Nadia Janjua and Ali Coolguy were painting live on stage during the entire show and Nadia also displayed two additional pieces created specifically for the event and its theme. DJ Scientific, a respected DJ and rocket scientist at NASA was holding down the 1’s and 2’s all night. The Project REACH team presented a short video on their work in DC and also unveiled their new branding with t-shirts, buttons, flyers and more. The final act for the night was definitely the most unique – Janka Nabay and the Bubu Gang, playing fast paced and frenetic bubu music all the way from Sierra Leone.
Other highlights from the night included food trucks providing food before the show, evening prayer held outdoors, Ridz Design’s backstage photobooth for the artists, and the support of the Project REACH youth and all of the dedicated volunteers.
Feedback from the event has been overwhelmingly positive from the 350+ attendees, and the Project REACH team and IMAN are satisfied with the first DC Community Café. A special shout out must go to the coordinating team in DC: Nafisa Isa, Bilal Aslam, Iman Kandil, Inshirah Aleem, Nasreen Mustafa, and Project REACH Executive Director, Katara Aleem.
Community Café is sponsored in part by the Open Society Foundations.