Music, dance celebrate African American culture

African culture filled Historic Market Square for the 29th annual Kuumba Festival on Friday, June 22. The public celebrated the free festival with entertainment on the stage from noon to 10 p.m.

African American Appalachian Arts brought the festival to fruition. The nonprofit grassroots organization helps plan this annual festival and concentrates on bringing positive social, economic and community development through cultural arts programming.

This year’s theme, “Kuumba Forever,” honored the legacy of former Executive Director Nkechi Ajanaku who died last summer.

“I think people need to see this and experience new things,” Chelsey Goons, a UT student, said. “It really shows how much there is out there in the world to see and encourages young people to embrace their true culture.”

The “Love is the Answer” Youth Art Showcase encouraged child development through the arts.

Felecia Outsey, the creator of “Love is the Answer,” said, “[The showcase] started with me wanting to be able to have something in place for kids who could not afford to go to take dance lessons, and I was once one of those kids.”

“The initiative is an open-mic performance community showcase that is hosted every month, but what we do is use that time to teach love to children and people in our community.”

MC Zakiyyah “Sista Zock Solid” Modeste and DJ K Swift hosted the event through both sunny weather and a deluge. The Kuumba Watoto Children’s Dance and Drum Extravaganza proved a popular feature as performers livened up the scene despite the rain.

The festival ended with a live concert from local singer and poet Daje Morris and the Ogya World Music Band.


Images of the Kuumba Watoto Children’s Dance and Drum group by Sage Davis

Edited by Lexie Little


Kuumba Festival continues to grow

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.