FUNDA Fest 2018

Always looking to widen the breadth of Rhode Islanders’ experience, FUNDA Fest returns for the 20th year, promising an exciting marriage between local and not-so-local artists. I spoke with Valerie Tutson, Rhode Island Black Storytellers’ creative director and FUNDA Fest creator, and there is good reason for the buzz.

“I’m excited in all the ways we are making the connections in the minds of our audience where people don’t think they exist. Like the intersectionality of spoken word and storytelling,” says Tutson. This year, local spoken word group Brother’s Keeper as well as Shakespeare to Hiphop featuring Regie Gibson and Marl0n Carey are performing. Bringing them into the FUNDA fold helps people view young black men positively, which is desperately needed.

I asked Valerie what other things should get us worked up. She said, “All the way from West Virginia comes storyteller and workshop presenter Ilene Evans, who brings to us stories from Affralachia. Many of us are unaware of the strong African American presence in the Appalachian mountains that stems back as far as the country. Ilene will be bringing historical characters and running a workshop on developing historical characters from our past.” This is a master-level workshop and while some of the FUNDA workshops are free, this is for professionals and there is a small fee.


Valerie goes on to say, “FUNDA is so relevant right now when our country is such deep despair. We need to get out of our heads and into our hearts, so we are bringing Masankho Banda, from Maui, Africa. Masankho is a peace-making storyteller and will complete the already packed lineup of FUNDA presenters.”

Storytelling is not just for children, you know. FUNDA once again offers the ever-popular Liars Contest, where you step up and tell your best lie. The winner gets $50. There also is “Grown Folks” storytelling happening at Mixed Magic Theater and workshops for adults.

And what would FUNDA be without our local and not-so-local returning favorites? Featuring Len Cabral, V Raffini, Rochel Garner Coleman, Ramona (the watermelon lady) Bass Kolobe, Valerie Tutson and one of my personal favorites, Teju Ologboni, this year’s festival will be just what the community needs.

FUNDA FEST 20: A Celebration of Black Storytelling

Jan 13 – 20

Sat, Jan 13

Family Storytelling Concert

Westerly Public Library, 44 Broad St, Westerly, 1 – 3pm, free public rvent

Sun, Jan 14

From Shakespeare to Hip-Hop

Words and music featuring Regie Gibson and Marlon Carey, their band and others. Southside Cultural Center of RI, 393 Broad St, PVD. Doors at 3:30/Show 4 – 6pm  

Mon, Jan 14                                                                                

MLK: Amazing Grace       

Providence Children’s Museum, 100 South St, PVD. 11am, 1pm and 2:30pm; Free with museum admission

Tue, Jan 16 – Fri, Jan 19

Storytellers in the Schools and Community venues across Rhode Island. To book a teller, contact Pattie Horton:

Thu, Jan 18

Family Storytelling Concert

YWCA Rhode Island Northern RI Campus, 514 Blackstone St, Woonsocket. 6:30 – 8pm. Free family event

Fri, Jan 19

Liar’s Contest: RIBS FIBS

Mixed Magic Theatre, 560 Mineral Spring Ave, Pawtucket. Doors 7/Event 8pm. Cash bar and concession stand. Prizes and trophies, 50/50 Raffle.

Sat, Jan 20

All Events at the Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island, 393 Broad St, PVD.

10am – Noon:

Storytelling Workshop with Ilene Evans

“Bringing Our History to Life”

Family Storytelling Workshop with Masankho Banda


1pm: Family Storytelling Concert

Free, Enjoy the stories and music of local artists, including youth performers and featured tellers

7pm: Mix Mingle and Music

8pm: Grown Folks Storytelling

50/50 raffle, Cash bar. A night of music and storytelling performances by featured artists.

Full festival info and tickets (including discounted festival pass)



FUNDA Debut:

Ms. Ilene Evans is an inspired storyteller, performer and scholar who weaves music, poetry, dance and drama, to bring history alive. Evans creates and presents theater programs and workshops/seminars that inform, educate and entertain audiences young and old. She has toured extensively across the US and internationally with her historical and original works.

Masankho Banda arrived in the United States in 1987, and earned a degree in theater and dance arts from the College of Wooster in Ohio. After graduating, Banda turned down an invitation to study at the Shakespeare School of Acting in New York, opting instead to devote his life to using dance, theater, music, drumming and storytelling to inspire people of all ages to work together to bring about peace, social justice and cultural understanding.

Teju Ologboni, from Milwaukee, is a master storyteller and folklorist of international renown and FUNDA FEST favorite. Ologboni  draws his listeners into stories with gestures and movements, and sometimes with traditional African instruments. An author, teacher, poet, actor, dancer and “verbal illusionist,” Ologboni shares stories that reflect on longstanding and contemporary cultural perspectives to give listeners greater understanding of the profound influence of African heritage on our traditions and identities.

Regional Artists

Both Linda and Sumner McClain love to perform stories together, celebrating life. They strongly believe that through the art of storytelling, poetry, music and movement, we are awakened to the valuable stories of our past and present, creating a tremendous potential for wholeness, and making the world a better place for everyone (made possible with support from the New England Foundation for the Arts).

Shakespeare to Hiphop is the combined talents of Regie Gibson and Marlon Carey. “The Shakespeare Time-Traveling Speakeasy” has garnered much praise and acclaim for the way it communicates the value of Shakespeare and encourages audiences young and old to engage with the Bard’s work. Shakespeare to Hiphop travels to schools, libraries and festivals all over, sharing the power of the written and spoken word with audiences from kindergarten to college and beyond (made possible through the New England Foundation for the Arts).

Brother’s Keeper is a poetry theater, blending poetry, music and theater elements, Brother’s Keeper explores a variety of topics, detailing the human experience from a male perspective in an attempt to counteract some of the negative images of African American males found in mainstream press and media. The group’s four members: Marlon Carey, Art Collins, Elder Lawrence Nunes and Yunus Quddus, have been committed to embodying the positive aspects of manhood and sharing those parts of human nature that provoke discussion and prompt us to make changes in our actions toward others.  

RIBS Tellers:

Len Cabral,is an internationally acclaimed storyteller who has been enchanting audiences with his storytelling performances at schools, libraries, museums and festivals since 1976. Cabral’s strong Cape Verdean ancestry comes alive in his exuberant retelling of African, Cape Verdean and Caribbean folktales as well as original stories and tales from around the world.

Rochel Garner Coleman, actor, singer, storyteller, has been performing since he was 9 years old. He travels nationally and internationally sharing stories of black historical legends, such as Nat Love and Cool Papa Bell, in shows developed using the research to performance method.

Valerie Tutson,has been telling stories in schools, churches, libraries, festivals and conferences around the world since 1991. She draws her stories from around the world with an emphasis on African traditions. Her repertoire includes stories and songs she learned in her travels to South Africa, her experiences in West Africa and stories from African American history. In addition, she is gaining quite a reputation for her exciting retelling of age-old Bible stories.

V.Raffini, a self-made artist, actress, and teacher from the South Side of Providence, has long been committed to the community, teaching black history and theatre, telling stories and nurturing the spiritual and creative abilities of young people.

Ramona Bass Kolobe, “The Watermelon Lady,” is a “story wheeler.” Kolobe brings her traditions of storytelling from her Jamaican and Native American ancestry together with her formal education to create works that open up the treasury of healing and understanding. Watermelon is a fruit of peace, friendship and sharing good times all around the world!