From Jazz To Tea, New Haven Feels The 6th Dimension

Danielle Campbell | October 4th, 2023

From Jazz To Tea, New Haven Feels The 6th Dimension

Black-owned businesses  |  Culture & Community  |  Jazz  |  Music  |  Arts & Culture  |  Westville  |  Whalley/Edgewood/Beaver Hills  |  Arts & Anti-racism  |  Possible Futures  |  6th Dimension Festival



Top: Musicians Pete Blake, Ryan Sands, and Wes Lewis on Friday night Bottom: Cellist Jonathan Moore. Danielle Campbell Photos.

With his eyes closed and head bobbing, Johnathan Moore began improvising on his cello, smiling faintly as the sound filled a corner of Edgewood Avenue. Strains of his composition “Sands” still hung in the bright, warm air, drawing a crowd in close to listen. As he picked up the beat, attendees joined in, clapping as the music floated over them. 

Moore’s performance was part of the AfroGalactic Tea Party, held Sunday afternoon at the Westville-based business BLOOM at 794 Edgewood Ave. in New Haven. Last weekend, it was one of two events celebrating the 6th Dimension, an arts festival and exhibition that culminates this month in a day-long summit at NXTHVN and film screening and dance party on Oct. 19. The accompanying exhibition, which is up at the LAB at ConnCORP, runs through Oct. 26. 

Friday evening, musicians Ryan Sands and Finn The Scientist joined forces for “Bookspace After Dark: Afrofuturism & Jazz,” held at Possible Futures in New Haven’s Edgewood neighborhood. Then Sunday afternoon, artists and makers gathered at BLOOM for the AfroGalactic Tea Party, a version of the centuries-old African-American tea ceremony meant to amplify and literally toast to Black voices in New Haven and Connecticut.

Both were the brainchild of curator Juanita Sunday, who has brought the 6th Dimension to life through months of community partnerships and cultural collaborations.  



Top: Sha McAllister and Juanita Sunday. Bottom: Listeners get cozy Friday.

“When I was curating the programming for 6th Dimension, I wanted it to be versatile so people would be able to engage in Afrofuturism in different forms of art as well as in different places,” Sunday said Friday, as soft, pink and purple mood lighting filled Possible Futures. “[It’s] to allow people as many different opportunities to attend the programming as possible.”

Friday, listeners and attendees could feel that as they shook off the afternoon’s rain and made themselves cozy in the space, seated among shelves of books, art displays and friendly-looking hand puppets made from recycled wool. On a makeshift stage at the front of the store, Sands and his band (Sands on drums, Wes Lewis on saxophone and Pete Blake on bass) settled in, greeting the audience as they took in a packed house. 

Soon, soft drums, smooth bass and powerful sax were making their way through spot, no bookshelf, poster display or corner left untouched by the music. During and between numbers, attendees responded in a language of head nods, smiles and dancing from their seats—as well as verbal affirmation that felt fundamental to jazz. 

Sands praised the bookspace, which has hosted music in the past but is a nontraditional venue, as a welcoming environment. In particular, he said he was grateful to work with Sunday and with Possible Futures founder Lauren Anderson.

“I just love this—just having jazz in a different environment,” Sands said during the show. “Actually bringing something like this around books …it's great. We just want to actually bring something here that's accessible to the people in a new way.”

Also playing Friday (they returned Sunday to perform at the AfroGalactic Tea Party as well), Finn The Scientist created a one-artist symphony, layering vocals onto each other as they soaked the whole space in mellow, rich sound. As they looped vocals, banishing the rain and gloomy weather outside, it felt like a testament to the diversity and spirit of Afrofuturism—that it can hold many possible futures for Black lives and Black creativity, including musical progression. 



Top: Attendees enjoy Finn The Scientist. Bottom: Madison Grady, Damali Willingham and Elisha Brockenberry. 

In the audience, Madison Grady said they were excited to be in the space because it highlighted music, a part of Afrofuturism that may not be addressed as frequently as visual art and new or digital media. 

“I am really glad I got to attend this event,” Grady said. “It was a very welcoming space and a great way to spend a Friday night after a long week! I think it was important to attend and support because, for me at least, the event did a great job of helping me wrap my brain around the utility and function of Afrofuturism in art that isn’t print or visual media.”

Less than 48 hours later, that cultural vibe extended to BLOOM, as afternoon tea flowed into live music and spoken word poetry (shop owner Alisha Crutchfield, who has described it as “all the things,” has worked to support fellow Black creators since opening the space two summers ago).

Alongside a delicate display of teacups, attendees milled around containers of apple cider, iced sweet tea, and a spiked Arnold Palmer that paired with chicken skewers, empanadas, and pot stickers from ConnCAT’s Orchid Café. Outside, artist from Moore to poet Lolade Siyonbola prepared to perform. 



Top: Cookie, Ebony Gibson and Dr. Kreative. Bottom: Attendees at the tea make time for the Electric Slide.

As the event progressed, participants showed up in their best Afrofuturistic attire, some with meticulous face paint meant to mirror and build on African tribal styles, rite, and ritual. Friends drifted through the space, some spilling out onto the patio as others remained inside. As a mix of music and spoken word bathed the corner in sound, Sunday also encouraged party-goers to get to know each other through cards with prompts and questions that she had set out on each table 

She also brought the spirit of the show to the party, with prizes for best and most thematically dressed that went to friends Cookie (she declined to give her full name) and Jasmin Agosto of Hartford and New Haven. The two received original artwork, as well as a Love Box from New Haven-based creator Farron Harvey. 

While the duo may have technically won the contest, it felt like the prize could have gone to any one of the attendees, as stunning silk, satin and cotton tea dresses, aviator glasses, chrome-colored headbands, fascinators and vibrant African prints abounded. At tables, friends caught up, laughed and took in the art as they sipped sweet, iced, and spiked versions of afternoon tea.  



Top: Lindsay Cromwell and Mars. Bottom: Cindy Lee Alves and Donisha Watley.

Mars, who came with her friend Lindsay Cromwell, said she was interested in creating relationships and finding community. 

“I’m very connected to Afrofuturistic, Afro everything,” she said. “So, this just feels natural. This feels like a safe space … like another great addition helping fill my cup, fill our cup, make us feel connected to community and that's all we want to do.”

Malakhi “Dr. Kreative” Eason, dressed in a black and silver top and gray pants, praised the event for both teaching people about Black culture and creating a safe space to celebrate it. For several years, both he and Sunday worked together at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas before departing this year to pursue their own creative ventures.  

“The teatime, which is something that traditionally in African American culture is something that our grandparents and our grandparents’ grandparents used to do," he said. "So, bringing that back into a space like this to my generation is something I think is very legendary. And I think that with Juanita being a part of the community in New Haven, we are in safe hands."

To hear more from the events, click on the videos above.