Drumming up awareness

Sirkete Selassie thinks people have the wrong idea about the Rastafarian faith and hopes those negative connotations will change tonight.

She and members of the Tampa chapter of Empress of Zion, a women’s Rastafarian group, will host an Ethiopian drumming event – a night of reggae music and poetry – to raise money for the women to attend its annual conference in March.

The group’s vision statement is to “educate and empower Rastafari women through a rites of passage program, emphasizing culture, history and language in order to preserve and perpetuate our legacy for generations to come,” according to the Empress of Zion Web site.

Efforts by Rastafarians to help build schools or feed the hungry seem to go unnoticed while members of the religion are stereotyped “as drug dealers or weed smokers,” Selassie said.

“People would see the Rastas doing something positive and uplifting their people,” she said. “We would like for people to give our group a chance.”

With the donations from tonight’s event, the Empress of Zion sisters in Tampa plan to join with other organizational chapters from the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. In unity, the women will plan better ways to educate children or provide medical needs for the elderly throughout the Rastafarian community, Selassie said.

“The elders fought for our freedom,” Selassie said. “Now that they’re getting old, they don’t have medical insurance or anything, so we set up programs for them to get proper (medical) needs.”

In order for these programs to operate, money is needed – which is why the Kaleisia Tea Lounge decided to open its doors to Empress of Zion for free.

Owner Kim Pham said the Tea Lounge invites the public to use its space for community events and said she won’t charge a dime for the use of their space.

“When the Rastafarian community wanted to hold their event, we welcomed them and we were glad to have them,” she said.

If other community groups decide on Kaleisia, Pham said “the only catch is (that) it has to be for a good cause.”

Theresa Mitchell, an Empress of Zion member, was glad to hear those words.

“We were looking for a venue to host our event,” Mitchell said. “I ran into them by accident and found out that they’re friendly.”

When the Empress of Zion members searched for musicians, the groups that they chose didn’t want pay either.

Musicians Dobie and Zeb of Tampa will play acoustic guitar tonight, and DJ Skankadan will spin various reggae records between the performances.

At the end, Selassie said musicians Ras Cat-I of Orlando and Ras Michael-I of Palm Bay will present an Ethiopian drum feature and will give a small history lesson about them.

“It’s incredible that we could get so many people to help out,” Mitchell said. “There are so many people claiming to be Rastas, but if they don’t believe in world peace and building communities, they’re not real.”

Attendees will enjoy a variety of vegan dishes, reggae music, poetry and a raffle. $5 love donations will be accepted.

The Kaleisia Tea Lounge is located on 1441 E. Fletcher Ave., next to USF Books and More. The event is from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.