April 22, 2024
Three Free Spirit Stilt Dancers tower over the crowd June 21 at Knoxville's annual Kuumba Festival.
Three Free Spirit Stilt Dancers tower over the crowd June 21 at Knoxville’s annual Kuumba Festival.

This year’s Kuumba Festival kicked off Thursday, June 20, at Krutch Park, as a diverse group of musicians, artists, and dancers led this four-day celebration.

The Kuumba Festival is an annual event that takes place during the summer and serves as the largest African arts festival in East Tennessee. Large crowds gathered to enjoy West African song and dance routines by performers of all ages, while more than 30 vendors set up shop selling self-made foods, clothes, and keepsakes.

“The African community here (in Knoxville) knows how to party. Every year hundreds of new faces show up, not knowing what to expect but glad they came.” said Devante’ Sales, an ex-drummer and graduate of Kuumba Kamp. “When the first drum sounds, get ready to move your feet.”

The Watoto Dance and Drum Line, a youth group with over 100 members, was only one of the many acts over the course of this weekend. Grammy award winning artist Alvin Garret and American Idol’s Ruben Studdard took the stage Saturday but The Free Spirit Stilt Walkers, an African dance group from New Orleans directed by Naimah Zulu, seemed to be the crowd’s favorite overall. Standing on 7 feet stilts, they posed for pictures and participated in many dance routines.

Four year Kuumba Festival participant Shana Ward said the stilt dancers were nothing short of amazing, tip toeing around like “giants in the clouds.”

Crowds spilled into Market Square after the annual Kuumba Junkanu parade Saturday, June 22, which was shortly followed by a youth talent show and pep rally. Parents was given a chance shop at the African Marketplace, composed of varies independent vendors, while the children cheered on their peers.

Sunday, June 23, was dedicated to Gospel in the Park and ended the Kuumba Festival with a performance by BET Sunday’s Best finalist, Jacqueline Calhoun.

Roy Greys, a craftsman and Kuumba Festival vendor, remembers his first time attending Kuumba and says, “This event has taken place 24 consecutive years and every years it gets bigger and better as more people find inspiration in a new culture

African-American Appalachian Arts and other local businesses helped sponsor this event.

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