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Westchester Roots: A Summer Celebration of Community and Culture

Music in the Air is a directory of free and affordable (under $20) outdoor cultural events taking place in the County between July and September. For a full list of these concerts, visit: artsw.org/musicintheair.

by Rachel Saruski

Ballet Folklórico Espíritu De Mexico, Performing Families, 7/23, 
presented by ArtsWestchester (photo courtesy of the artists)

If one wanders onto Court Street in White Plains this summer, their ears may be flooded with the riveting rhythms of Irish tunes. The same person can dance their way into City Hall Plaza in Mount Vernon to move freely to West African drums and visit Ossining’s Bethany Arts Community to observe a Mexican ballet ensemble. In Sleepy Hollow and Peekskill, one can immerse themselves in a day of Ecuadorian culture, or sing to their heart’s content to the music of the Andes Mountains. The possibilities of cultural expansion are seemingly endless.

These events are all part of Westchester Roots, a cross-cultural series of free, outdoor events presented by ArtsWestchester in partnership with the City of White Plains, City of Mount Vernon, Village of Sleepy Hollow, Arts 10556 and Bethany Arts Community. In its second year, the series of live music and performances will engage over 100 artists and represent Black/African American, Jamaican, Ghanaian, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Irish and LGBTQ+ communities. 

Says Aaron Paige, ArtsWestchester’s Director of Folk and Traditional Arts: “Our hope is for these programs to strengthen and support under-recognized arts traditions while building cross-cultural understanding, public awareness and unity.”

The series aims to host events that accurately depict Westchester and its cultural populations in their respective areas. For example, according to census data, Sleepy Hollow has the biggest and fastest-growing Ecuadorian population in Westchester, making up 23% of the town’s population. In response, Westchester Roots includes Día De La Cultura/Day of Ecuadorian Culture to celebrate the music, food, clothing, dance and crafts of the country and community (August 20). 

In service of Mount Vernon’s growing community of immigrant families and individuals of Guinean descent, a performance from WUZA-WUZA African Music & Dance Ensemble will feature the traditions and diversity of West African drumming, dancing and culture (August 9). 

In White Plains, the Braata Folk Singers will help to celebrate the large community of Jamaican people in Westchester (August 6). The event is part of the 188th year of Jamaican emancipation and the 60th Anniversary of Independence Festival.

A Performing Families event on July 23 will feature two family ensembles in Peekskill, where the Latin American community makes up 85% of the population. A few days later in White Plains, the McLean Ave. Band will feature traditional Irish tunes and ballads mixed with elements of rock, pop and R&B for the Irish population of Westchester (July 28).

All of the performances bring music to the public outside of traditional music venues, making art more accessible to all communities and cultures. As such, Paige says that the Westchester Roots series is “helping neighbors to break down barriers and learn to appreciate one another’s knowledge, history and rich cultural heritage.” 

A version of this article first appeared in the July-August 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

Other 2022 Music in the Air Lineups You May Enjoy:

  • A Front Row Seat of the Hudson: Hudson River Museum welcomes back audiences for the tenth season of its annual Summer Amphitheater Series.
  • The Sounds of Summertime Return to New Rochelle: After two years of canceling and reducing the annual Summer Sounds concert series due to COVID-19, New Rochelle Council on the Arts is back with a full schedule, including 18 events, this time in two locations.
  • Jazz River: This summer concert series presented by Jazz Forum Arts will send the sounds of jazz wafting over the Hudson River from five Westchester waterfront parks.