5 unlikely highlights at this weekend’s Folklife Festival

Seattle hip hop artist Draze Maraire performs at 4p.m. on Saturday at the NW Folklife Festival. (Photo by Jama Abdirahman)
Seattle hip hop artist Draze Maraire performs at 4p.m. on Saturday at the NW Folklife Festival. (Photo by Jama Abdirahman)

When you say “Folklife Festival” a few things automatically come to mind: food, hippies, the Space Needle, and a long weekend. While all are still well represented in the annual Memorial Day event, it’s the showcasing of ethnic traditions that really give the festival its character.

Since 1972, the Folklife Festival has hosted performances by and vendors from diverse communities within the Pacific Northwest in an effort to increase mutual understanding of the various cultural heritages that make up the region.

This year, 13 different stages and venues will bring the traditions of dozens of countries around the world to life across four packed days. There are tons activities set to pack each day from 11am until 10pm. Here are some unlikely highlights that are worth a visit, even if you weren’t planning to spend all weekend lying on the Seattle Center lawns eating scones:

Beats, Rhymes, and Rhythms

This year’s Folklife Festival plans to bring hip-hop back to its community roots with their Cultural Focus line-up titled “Beats, Rhymes, and Rhythms.” The line-up features everything from films to b-boy competitions, but star of the show will be the continent that doesn’t often get due credit for its influence on hip-hop: Africa.

Catch “The Essences: Expressions of Africa through beats, rhymes, and rhythms” Saturday from 4-6pm at the Xfinity Mural Amphitheatre. The musical performance features music from four first-generation African Americans that fuses traditional African music with modern urban sounds. Draze, a member of the influential Seattle hip-hop family the Maraires, will be headlining the concert.

The Kukeri Parade

Frightening and furry Kukeri coustumes are donned by Bulgarian men as part of traditional rituals to ward off evil spirits. (Photo by Elena Chockova)
Frightening and furry Kukeri coustumes are donned by Bulgarian men as part of traditional rituals to ward off evil spirits. (Photo by Elena Chockova)

Kukeri refers to the traditional Bulgarian rituals for fertility, regeneration, and awakening of the Earth. Though it is usually performed during the times of New Years and Lent in Bulgarian culture, Bulgarian men in the Seattle community will showcase the tradition in The Kukeri Parade on Saturday at 1pm at the Bagley Wright Theatre. Don’t be frightened by the scary masks and props used to make loud noises, they’re needed for the men to chase off the evil and ensure a healthy relationship between land and people.

Bollywood Dance: Lessons and Show

Stop by the Armory Court Stage from 2pm until 2:45pm on Friday to grab a bite at the Uncommon Market and get a crash course in Bollywood dance. The participatory dance session will be led by experienced professional dancer Katrina Ji of Culture Shakti, a Seattle dance studio and international performing company. This style relies on precision, timing, and expressive movements, so be ready for a workout. If you’re lucky you might get the chance to show off your skills at a South Asian wedding some day.

Later in the evening, watch the pros flaunt their talents in the Exhibition Hall from 6:45pm until 8:15pm.

“Welcome to our Native Land” Coastal Cultures Day Celebration

Join in a traditional powwow at Folklife Festival this year put on by "Welcome to our Native Land" (Photo from nwfolklife.org).
Join in a traditional powwow at Folklife Festival this year put on by “Welcome to our Native Land” (Photo from nwfolklife.org).

The Coast Salish cultures will share their traditions with the Folklife crowds Sunday and Monday with celebrations of coastal tribes. The festivities include a powwow on Sunday with dancing, singing, storytelling, and traditional crafting demonstrations. The Muckleshoot Tribe is also sponsoring the display of a Muckleshoot canoe next to the John T. Williams Totem Pole near the Space Needle on Sunday. Monday will consist of a special salute to all veterans in a ceremony led by the Native community on the Amphitheatre Stage.

Balkan Misfits Party

Four music groups will take over the Fountain Lawn Stage for a high-energy show that is all about having fun — that’s why it’s called a party. The show features the Bucharest Drinking Team with their combination of Balkan flare in folk and pop tunes, The m9 with Romani-style brass, Kef with Balkan dance music, and Byzantine Blue with Central-European modern rock.

Join in the party and experience the sounds of the Balkans Saturday beginning at 6pm.

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