GRIOT FESTIVAL 2015
WE WIN Institute’s Griot Festival is the latest branch on the tree of African cultural heritage and knowledge in Minnesota and beyond Africa. WE WIN utilizes traditional African and African-American art forms to teach children and the community about the richness of African culture. WE WIN employs the principles of Kwanzaa (unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith) with youth in Minnesota in our celebration of the African American holiday to further their education about African cultural traditions. Our annual Kwanzaa holiday has been celebrated for the past nineteen years to teach African art and culture while demonstrating the importance of keeping African art forms alive.
Photos by: Patience Zalanga
"WE WIN’s Griot Education Project is designed to perpetuate African and African-American art forms, while planting the seed in our student to pass on what s/he has learned to successive generations."
Why A Griot Festival?
WE WIN’s Griot Festival demonstrates the importance of African traditional art, history, culture and learning through storytelling. The African oral tradition stands as a vital and culturally-imperative source for making meaning and connecting the past, the present and the future. Storytelling includes oral stories, (Spoken Word and Hip Hop), African drum, songs (traditional African, spirituals, and jazz), and African dance, (found in traditional African movements, praise dance, jazz and hip hop etc.). The Griot Celebration uses traditional arts such as these to tell the story of Black people from Africa to America.
What Is A Griot?
In African tradition, the griot is one of the key figures in African society. The griot carries the cultural knowledge and identity of his or her people. The griot’s legacy stretches back for thousands of years. The griot is also guardian of the knowledge of his or her people’s ancestry. This history may never have been written down, making griots crucial to keeping the record of the past. Griots are also orators, lyrists and musicians. Griots are learned storytellers, entertainers, and historians, often memorizing and recanting the genealogy, or family history, of everyone in a village going back centuries. Griots are musicians, sages and unifiers who preserve traditional culture through embedded values and meaning while noting the need to adapt with new contexts.
Historically, griots are revered members of communities tasked with the tremendous responsibility of maintaining and preserving cultural history and the spirit of a people. In Minnesota, we still have griots who are part of traditional gatherings such as weddings and naming ceremonies. Griots have long been respected for the power that their music can carry, yet deserve attention to the deeper dimensions of their valuable roles.
When enslaved Africans were transported from Africa to North America, they brought with them various oral and musical traditions. These traditions became vital to the use of music as a form of resistance and rebellion. African drumming with storytelling and “griotism” (an oral tradition of continuing and passing on important familial and local histories through poetry and music) to create spirituals and ballads. Dance was also an important story form that tells the story of struggle and victory of African people. Call- and-response was used by the storytellers to engage the community with their story. As time passed, jazz, blues and folk music was infused in the Africans story in the United States. Doo-wop, rap, and hip hop music are dominant forms of storytelling.
Minnesota's African American Griots
WE WIN’s Griot Festival demonstrates the importance of storytelling in Minnesota by bringing to public attention and celebration, several authentic local griots. Nothando Zulu displays an amazing ability to use her oral storytelling to relay the history of African people in our Diaspora from Africa, through the Middle Passage and life in America. Chad Heslup (MC Longshot) uses hip-hop to link the African experience with urban life for African Americans. Darryl Boudreaux, of Sounds of Blackness, uses African drumming as a method to share the quality of African life, resistance, tragedy and success. Kenna Camara-Cottman displays the African legacy and story through traditional and modern African dance forms. Debbie Duncan has the ability of weaving all these art forms together, creating songs that best demonstrate the multidimensional cultural history. Marilyn Lindstrom’s work with students aims at capturing the spirit of the festival through a colorful and real-time mural depicting the spirit of WE WIN’s Griot Festival.
WE WIN Institute's Griot Education Project
The Griot Festival designs the African story methods of the oral tradition, drum, and song and dance to teach the Minnesota community about the importance of the African story and why it must be shared and preserved. Youth will learn these important African Art forms and teach their audience the story from Africa to America. Learning traditional and contemporary African art forms will educate youth and the larger community about the importance of the African story and build greater self-esteem for children and their families.
The relationship between the student and the master artist is one of mutual respect. The master artist is respected for having studied, learned the art and having the will to duplicate themself in the student, who is respected for being willing to put the work and time in to become an artist. Experience is the best teacher. The significance and meaning of our traditions thrive as we continue building upon Ancestral principles and keeping African art alive. Studies have shown that artistry enhances creativity and the learning centers of the brain; especially when learning about one's own culture. WE WIN’s Griot Education Project is designed to perpetuate African and African-American art forms, while planting the seed in our student to pass on what s/he has learned to successive generations.
This project will have a significant impact for its participating youth and for the greater Minnesota arts community. It will allow youth to learn about cultural art forms that are not typically showcased in local art events. It allows youth to empower their own artistic agency through personal creative abilities demonstrating their cultural brilliance. Further, the project is designed to create a ripple effect in the number youth engaged in the arts (African).
The goals for the Griot project are to expand youth access to traditional African and African-American arts forms. Through an engaging and transformative process youth will work with Minnesota Artists in the art forms of (story telling) African dance, drum, and performing arts (singing and Hip-Hop), and mural making. The project is designed to culminate in a public performance at Bethune Park on August 22nd that will increase the number of Minnesota’s that are engaged in traditional African art forms.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.