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Exploring Balboa Park: July 2014

A musical beat establishes tempo, meter, rhythm and a groove. It generates the complexities of diverse expression through song and dance.

Johnny McDonald

Johnny McDonald

Worldwide, interpretation might be determined by the beat of a drum.

Such sounds are a common occurrence in a colorfully draped building known as WorldBeat Cultural Center, located at 2100 Park Blvd just south of the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.

WorldBeat and neighboring Centro Cultural de la Raza, both members of the Park’s museum family, are housed in old water storage tanks once used by the Naval Hospital during World War II.

Makeda “Dread” Cheatom, executive director and founder of WorldBeat, befits her role, costumed in an African style dress and hat, depicting her Ghana heritage.

“I have produced programs and presented artists from wide genres — African, Latin Jazz, Cuban, Afro-Beats and Reggae,” she said. “All are currently represented within the Center.”

A Worldbeat Center fixture for 19 years, Cheatom is determined to raise world consciousness through music, dance, and the arts to promote unity within diversity while advocating world peace.

Her efforts to create unity among all races stem from her youth when she was denied entry into her playmates homes because she was black.

Her credentials: a cultural anthropology major and ethnomusicologist who has traveled worldwide to research ethnic music. She has received numerous awards for her service to the community and even carries her message beyond the center as a radio personality.

“I’m the only African-American female on commercial radio in San Diego,” she said with pride. “I’ve been on the air for over 25 years.”

She also produces a television show called WorldBeat Live, which is broadcast on community networks.

She picked up the nickname Dread because of her dreadlock hair style.

“July is a very important month because we’ll celebrate the birthday of (Ethiopian leader) Haile Selassie on the 23rd,” she said.

How is the center subsidized?

“I work 24 hours,” was her reply. “Fundraising through our concerts, selling food, among other things. We can hold about 600 people in here. We’ll have a great summer program, everything … with the beat of a big drum.”

The center is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more info visit worldbeatcenter.org.

Meanwhile next door, Centro Cultural de la Raza at 2004 Park Blvd., provides classes and presentations on drama, music, dance, arts and crafts, many of which have origins in Mexico and “Aztlán,” a term used by Chicanos to indicate the American Southwest.

Programs include Azteca dance, Teatro Chicano, film screenings, exhibits, musical performances, installation art and receptions. The Centro’s resident Ballet Folklorico company also operates a dance academy.

It is one of the largest Chicano cultural arts buildings in the Southwest, and is identifiable by a number of murals painted near the building’s main entrance. For more info, visit centroculturaldelaraza.com.

Elsewhere in the Park — The San Diego Museum of Art is exhibiting “Sorolla and America” through Aug. 26. It is the first retrospective on Spanish postimpressionist Joaquín Sorolla to focus on his impact in the United States. The exhibition features nearly 150 of his works, including more than 40 never-before-displayed. He was internationally acknowledged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as one of the foremost Spanish painters … Through Sept. 26, the San Diego Auto Museum will display 12 orphaned cars from automobile companies that went out of business. Some of the cars include a 1905 Tourist, 1910 Maxwell, 1932 Auburn, 1960 Rambler and 1958 Packard/Studebaker … The Museum of Man’s Border Crossing, a production in partnership with La Jolla Playhouse, has been scheduled for summer 2015. The site-specific theatre program will immerse people in the experience of crossing the border illegally from Mexico into the United States. It will offer a vivid first-person experience, cutting through polarized political debates. Actors will play a range of characters, including coyotes, migrants, Border Patrol agents, landowners and prospective employers … The kids, pre-K through eighth grade, are taking part in the Fleet Center’s summer camps, keeping scientific exploration fun through full-day camps until Aug. 22.

—You can reach him at johnny23@cox.net.

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