Aesthetically Speaking

Griots invade north Minneapolis

The griot invasion of north Minneapolis happened Saturday, Aug. 22 at Bethune Park.

More than 300 people attended WE WIN Institute’s Griot Festival, which was the latest branch on the tree of African cultural heritage and knowledge in Minnesota and beyond Africa. WE WIN utilized traditional African and African-American art forms to teach children and the community about the richness of African culture.

WE WIN’s Griot Festival demonstrated 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 included oral stories, (spoken word and hip-hop), African drum, songs (traditional African, spirituals, and jazz), and African dance, (found in traditional African movements and hip-hop). The Griot Festival used traditional arts such as these to tell the story of Black people from Africa to America.

In African traditions, 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 a people’s ancestry. This history may never have been written down, making griots crucial to keeping the record of the past.

During the summer months, WE WIN partnered with Phyllis Wheatley Community Center and the We Care Performing Arts, along with griots, who worked weekly with north and southside youth to teach them the relationship of the drum, dance, oral storytelling and hip-hop to African culture. The WE WIN Griot Festival demonstrated the importance of African stories in Minnesota by bringing together several authentic local griots.

The Griot Festival designed the African story methods of the oral tradition, drum, song and dance, to teach the community about the importance of the African story and why it must be shared and preserved. Youth learned these important African art forms and taught their audience the African connection to the drum, oral stories, dance and hip-hop.

In addition to the interactive workshops, the Griot Festival included bingo games, a community art project where participants colored in a display of the Kwanzaa altar, which included the seven symbols of Kwanzaa. Free food was served, face painting, and specialty balloons were provided by cultural clown artist, Rochelle James.

With emcee Toki Wright, the festival culminated in stage performances by Griot youth and the Griot teachers. Besides a performance of dance, drum, storytelling and hip-hop, music was provided by DJ Van Cool, the internationally renowned beatboxer, DJ Snuggles, and spoken word legend, Keno Evol.

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September 3, 2015
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