Oceans of Rhythm Festival returns for 26th year

By Neil Schulman

Long Branch — The 26th Annual Oceans of Rhythm Festival is returning to the city on Saturday, bringing messages of love for nature, traditional African music and dances, house music and more.

Events begin at 2:30 p.m. on the Great Lawn Stage by the oceanfront (or the Broadway Bandshell off Third Avenue in case of rain), features activities from and references to some of the previous 25 Oceans of Rhythm, but each festival brings something new, says Basha Alperi of ZEYBRAH, which puts on the festival with support from the City of Long Branch.

Things start with a call of the drums and procession at 2:30 p.m. The procession has sometimes been held towards the end of the festival, but this time it’s near the beginning, giving people a chance to see what’s going on. Over the years the procession has included stilt walkers representing many traditions — some nations use them as symbols to keep evil spirits away, some more as entertainment — and that’s returning this year. “That’s one of my favorite things,” she said.

It also opens with a “Shellular Chant,” a reference ot some of the early Oceans of Rhythm Festivals, which featured plays telling a mythic history of Long Branch where the sea was contacted with a “shellular phone.” But in this case, it will contain Native American chants blessing the water, sea and sky.

Yakar Roots and Rhythms West African Drum and Dance Company from Senegal once again returns to play, bringing a variety of West African dances with them. The band’s played before, but it’s picked up members since las time, including “some new ones you haven’t heard before,” Alperin says.

One of those is Tenefig Diabate, from National Ballet of Guinea.

Yakar Roots and Rhythms has played spaces such as Carnegie Hall, the Lincoln Center and the United nations in New York.

“The people we bring from Senagal and Africa are master dancers and drummers,” Aleprin says.

The dancers will also teach dance steps to the crowd. Audience participation, especially for children, is encouraged.

Things then transition to the Long Branch Beach Party, organized by DJ Yum Yum — also known as Lonnie Rawls — now in its 12th year. Alperin said there’s a connection here; house music can trace its roots back to African music.

Alperin said that ZEYBRAH’s worked with DJ Yum Yum before, and “we’re happy to be working with him again.”

There’s an impressive array of DJs and singers here: DJ Jihad Muhammad, a native of Newark, known as “Prince of NJ’s underground dance music scene”; DJ Josh Milan’s, of the famed 80’s and 90’s Motown Records group Blaze, who has worked with many top artists as well as fortifying his own passion for songwriting, transmitting messages of love, passion, peace and positivity; Vocalist, Dawn Tallman, aka “The Queen of Gospel Energy,” has an impressive discography, and has recorded with other well-known music giants; and DJ Scott Smooth has been organizing House Music events for many years in this area.

“A lot of them really reached a wide audience,” Alperin notes. Some have toured internationally.

Alperin says that Oceans of Rhythm is the work of many people, and she’s especially grateful for the support from the city, especially Carl Jennings, Director of the Department of Recreation and Jake Jones, Director of the Office of Community and Economic Development.

“I really want to extend this gratitude,” she said.