Chief Baba Neil Clarke

Pinkster Festival
Pronouns: he / him
Artistic Discipline: Performing ArtsCultural Heritage
Category: Creative Equations Fund: Justice, Equity, & SustainabilityBrooklyn Arts FundSocial Innovation Fellow
Grant Year: 2024
Location: Weeksville

Celebration of the little known, African influenced Pinkster Festival of the mid 17th thru 19th century. Grossly overlooked and generally dismissed, Pinkster took place in the historically Dutch influenced Hudson River Valley for close to 200 years. Begun by the Dutch, the original European colonizers throughout this Hudson River Valley region and beyond, Pinkster is the Dutch name for the Christian celebration of Pentecost taking place 50 days after Easter. It’s believed it’s when the “Holy Spirit” appeared to the disciples of crucified Jesus, prompting them to go forth “speaking in tongues” to spread their message of the Resurrection. This is the formal beginning of the Christian church. The Dutch did engage in the enslavement of African people beginning in 1626. During the Pinkster celebration the Dutch would go to church and as they did so, would give their enslaved Africans “time off “ with the freedom to engage in many normally uncustomary activities. The Africans would take this opportunity to publicly celebrate in ways reflecting their pre-enslavement cultural heritage expressions. Significantly, it is documented that over time these celebrations, depending on location, took on predominantly African tones. Legislative prohibitions began in 1811. With the last documented celebrations around 1840.

I live the African drum as a cultural and spiritual way of life. I’ve done so globally, firmly rooted in my native Brooklyn, for over 50 years. Performing, worshipping with, Researching, Constructing, Repairing, Renovating, Maintaining, Teaching and Consulting are all parts of my daily activities. As a traditionalist, I’m a historian and living connection between past legacies and contemporary possibilities, between the histories of continental indigenous African nations and their descendant populations throughout the diaspora in the Americas & the Caribbean. From the perspective of an instrumentalist, I link numerous generations of diaspora percussive traditions, such as the Afro-Cuban conga drum’s lineage, with its specific continental African drum families and cultural legacies of the KiKongo nation, to contemporary artistic expressive applications and explorations. This acquired knowledge and insight of the drum, is not based primarily in academic research, rather it’s rooted in lived experience, training, technical facility, and faith-based traditionalism. As an artist these provide foundation, root and vocabulary with which I continue to express, explore, collaborate in interesting and exciting contemporary creative contexts. In 2024, as in previous decades, I plan to continue playing, exploring and fully exercising my craft in as many new and creative ways as possible.

Chief = Chieftaincy ("Alufopejo Awo of Osogbo", Nigeria - 2016); Baba = Elder (Senior citizen) / Also: Elder Initiated Traditional Priest (35+ yrs) / Also: Father (3 children/6 grandchildren)