The MOJA Arts festival kicked off last weekend, with a number of major events celebrating African American and Caribbean culture. Things got going with a Caribbean parade from Marion Square to the Custom House on East Bay Street, where the Reggae Block Dance grooved through the night. It was a packed event with food, wine, beer, and “crafts” vendors, mainly featuring designer knock-offs and bootleg CDs. The music was the highlight, with Slice International leading the roster along with high-energy performances from DeLions of Jah and violin virtuoso Daniel Davis. The crowd was thick from the stage up to the top step of the Custom House, but for the most part, there was much more swaying than actual dancing going on. It was arguably the most diverse crowd the lower peninsula’s seen in a long time — or at least since last year’s Block Dance. The only downside to the night was a raunchy smell caused by overflowing sewers, thanks to the full moon and high tide. Yuck.

Saturday was Heritage Day at Hampton Park, and the main attraction was a step show competition featuring local step troupes. Only three groups showed up to compete, with performances built around music ranging from Jesus pop to hip-hop (“Soulja Boi” was the crowd favorite), and the dancers themselves ranged from five-year-olds to 30-somethings. After the competition, a group performed traditional African and Caribbean-tinged music, with lots of audience participation. Festival-goers enjoyed traditional ethnic foods and crafts, info booths, and the beautifully mild weather.

Saturday was also Community Day at the Gibbes, providing a great opportunity to check out the Lorna Simpson exhibit, which fit well with the week’s celebration of African-American art. The internationally-acclaimed artist uses photographs and film to explore issues of race, gender, and identity — definitely worth checking out. Saturday night was the Charleston Symphony Orchestra’s opening night, and they packed a full, diverse house for Carmina Burana. From the first, rockin’ notes to the huge, standing-O finish, the performance was enough to convert anyone into a concert music lover.