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Helping 'Friends' come together

June 12, 2008|Chau Tu

WHEN IT comes to describing this year's Juneteenth festival in Long Beach, few songs are more appropriate than "Why Can't We Be Friends?"

After all, the Saturday event in Martin Luther King Jr. Park celebrates Emancipation Day, also known as Juneteenth, the June 19 holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the U.S.

Because of its historically large African American population, Long Beach has long been a setting for Juneteenth celebrations, says John Malveaux, this year's entertainment producer. "The event has been a [black] gospel music event, historically," he says.

As the city has grown, however, coordinators began thinking of ways to make celebrations such as Juneteenth more representative of Long Beach's diversity.

"The city wanted this year's event to be more inclusive and reflective of the general community," Malveaux says.

But Juneteenth is not only looking to bring together multiple cultures. It also features two multi-ethnic bands born in Long Beach that have faced their own struggles to find peace.

One is Dengue Fever, whose lead singer, Chhom Nimol, moved to Long Beach from Cambodia. Given the Asian country's violent past under the Khmer Rouge regime, Dengue Fever's Ethan Holtzman sees the band's appearance at Juneteenth as one of mutual understanding: "It's like sending a message to getting rid of this kind of behavior," he says.

Another local group, the Lowrider Band, is equally concerned with presenting a message of unity.

The city will honor the group (the event's headliners) by designating Saturday as "Why Can't We Be Friends?" Day, after the 1975 song from the multi-platinum funk band War. Four of War's original members -- Harold Brown, Lee Oskar, B.B. Dickerson and Howard Scott -- now make up the Lowrider Band.

While they continue to perform classics such as "Slippin' Into Darkness," the erstwhile War players are legally prohibited from using the old band moniker.

"We're really looking forward to coming back to capture our birthrights, whatever our name is," says drummer Brown. He adds that the celebration is "really what our music has always been about."

"Our music has reached out to a lot of people, but we never looked what their skin color was or anything; we always judged whether they were good people."

Guitarist-vocalist Scott also recalls when music united Long Beach. "When we were growing up and started making music . . ., music broke the barriers. The only thing that could bring everyone together was playing music."

"We've been denied the stage before because we can't use the name War," Scott says. "It'll be a pleasure to be back in L.A., because no one really knows us as the Lowrider Band yet, but slowly, slowly, they'll recognize us. They'll hear the songs and they'll know."





WHERE: Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 1950 Lemon Ave., Long Beach

WHEN: noon-5 p.m. Saturday


INFO: (562) 570-4405

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