North Hill Music Festival highlights neighborhood's South Asian community and invites everyone to come and have a good time

On Saturday, the North Hill neighborhood will celebrate its continuing cultural evolution with the North Hill Music Festival.

The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Exchange House, a formerly empty house that has been turned into a public gathering space and cultural hostel with a goal of helping new immigrants in their transition, as well as helping to “bridge barriers between communities.”

Synergistically, the festival’s goal is to celebrate the diverse cultures of the Nepali, Bhutanese and other South Asian immigrants who have settled in North Hill in the past decade, and reach out to the North Hill neighborhood and other area communities.

The festival will feature a cornucopia of family-friendly things to do, see and consume, and it is the brainchild of Puspa Gajmer, founder, president and CEO of the Himalayan Arts Language & Cultural Academy at 739 N. Main St.

The school curriculum includes Nepali language classes, music classes from basic music theory on guitar and piano, to ethnic instruments such as harmonium and tabla. There are more than 50 students of various ages and origins and the school is open to anyone who is interested in learning.

Gajmer, who spent 22 years in a Nepalese refugee camp after his family and 100,000 others were ethnically cleansed from their native Bhutan when he was 5 years old, moved to the U.S. in 2011 with his wife, Shanti.

He now has two sons, Amir, 6 and Ankit, 15 months, and is a Child Guidance & Family Solutions caseworker by day as well as a classically trained musician teaching guitar at the academy. This spring, he built a recording studio in his house.

Gajmer applied for and won a Knight grant for the festival, matched the grant amount and is now hoping to solidify the festival as an annual destination spot for other South Asian transplants and anyone interested in learning about and connecting with other cultures and people.

“My aim and main objective is to just bridge the gap from one community to another one, from one community’s music to another. Food, all the things. These are the main things that connect people,” Gajmer said while nursing a sore throat by sipping hot lemon water at the Panera in Chapel Hill.

“Because of this festival, I’m super-duper busy. I have an aim to do something for the community. Every month let’s do something, let’s come up with some new idea,” he said.

 

Music and dance

Among those actualized ideas will be performances by HALCA students (including his son Amir) of both Nepalese/Bhutanese dances and music and Western music, including a surely cute gaggle of little kids performing “My Heart Will Go On,” from "Titanic" and some Bollywood hits.

There will also be cultural dances and music from a local Korean troupe Gajmer befriended, and some African drummers.

Look for plenty of food from local restaurants, including Everest and Global Kitchen. Other activities will include yoga sessions, dramatic scenes and Tewkendo demonstrations. Also, there will be ice cream.

In addition to the cultural exchange, several city organizations such as the Akron-Summit County Public Library, Metro Parks, Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board and Child Guidance & Family Solutions and community groups will be on site to help those in need, including free legal consulting and citizenship assistance.

Seniors 65 or older will receive free snacks. “Anything they want. I don’t know if this will be covered by my grant but I have to do these extra things,” Gajmer said with a chuckle.

“A lot of our people, specifically seniors, have to stay home; they have nothing else to do and nowhere else to go and just staying all day on the sofa watching television. Let them feel refreshed and when they come to the festival at least they can see something going on and talk to people and meet their friends and neighbors and they can taste the food and the music of different communities, so they will have lots of fun,” he said.

For Gajmer, the North Hill festival is another means to ensure the growing community remembers its roots, and the first generation of Nepalese and Bhutanese Americans don’t just “sit around staring at their phones playing Fortnite.”

It’s also intended to familiarize and connect with the city and its denizens, which he believes is happening.

“Before they didn’t know. Where is Nepal what does Nepali mean? Maybe it’s some kind of food or something,” he said.

“But now they’ve come to know that Nepal is here, India is there, it is in South Asia and these people are like this and they have this kind of food and this kind of music. And because of all this interrelating, every day we are learning new things from the locals and having good relations because from here we won’t go anywhere else. We are not going back to our country, so this is our country," Gajmer said.

"I’m a citizen so I always think I should do something for this new place. I just want to imprint on this area, leave a good name behind.”

Anyone who wants to attend, contribute, donate to or become a part of the Himalayan Arts Language & Cultural Academy, go to www.halc.org.

 

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at mabram@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3758. Like him on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1lNgxml, and follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.