Funda Fest: Uniting People Through Storytelling and Education

The Rhode Island Black Storytellers (RIBS) present a week of traditional African and international storytelling, dance, music, and arts as Funda Fest arrives for its 15th year. From Saturday, January 19th through Sunday, January 27th, families, spoken word artists, and anyone simply interested in an enlightening, entertaining experience are invited to various locations around the state to learn from and interact with several internationally acclaimed folk tellers with roots from around the world in RIBS’ flagship event.

Founded in 1998, RIBS is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the awareness, appreciation, and application of Black Storytelling in Rhode Island through performance, as well as through educational and cultural experiences. Throughout the year, the organization offers workshops in storytelling, writing, and related arts as a part of the development of the next generation of storytellers along with professional development workshops for those interested in enhancing cultural awareness, and improving their performances and communication skills. All these elements come together to create Funda Fest.

“Funda” means “to teach and to learn” in the African languages of Zulu and Kiswahili. The week traditionally coincides with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to serve as a symbol, reminder, and opportunity to educate audiences young and old of what the day truly means for the culture. Frequent festival performer Tejumola Ologboni explained in an interview last year, “The idea is the preservation of culture and the history. African Americans are left out of history and culture. We’ve been kept on the periphery, maintaining tradition through the arts. We’re doing what we always have. [Storytelling is] just recently becoming popular in white America.”


Many of the tellers themselves come from an African heritage. This year welcomes some familiar faces along with some newcomers. Eshu Bumpus returns to Funda, just back from a trip to Senegal, West Africa; Victoria Burnett incorporates song into her stories; Teju Ologboni gives listeners greater understanding of the profound influence of African heritage on traditions and identities; Mitch Capel, or “Gran’daddy Junebug,” will host the 2nd Annual Liar’s Contest at the ROOTS Cultural Center; Annawon Weeden was born and raised in RI among the Narragansett tribal community with ties to the Mashantucket Pequot of Connecticut; RPM Voices of RI (Reaching People through Music), is open to and representative of the multicultural and multifaith community of Rhode Island.

Though the event is put on through one of Rhode Island’s most influential African American non-profit societies, Funda Fest is not purely Afrocentric in nature. “Every group and culture of people on earth, no matter how large or small, has a proud and really beautiful history, artistic expression, etc. All of us, including the audience, have an ancestral tradition that is carried down through the arts. This is what we do, and we want to celebrate with you what you do,” continued Ologboni. People of every culture, color, and age are invited and encouraged to learn and to teach at Funda Fest.

“The stories,” continued RIBS executive director Chontell Washington, “aren’t for people of a particular race. They are for humans.” She stressed the importance and relevance of family participation in the workshops and concerts throughout the week. By holding numerous workshops and performances throughout the state in intimate venues like libraries and churches rather than fewer performances for larger masses of people, Funda Fest is uniquely interactive. Washington explained that through inviting families to learn together and with other families, the learning goes beyond the culture and content of the lessons taught. “This type of sharing enhances every person’s life,” she added. To learn together is to strengthen a relationship.

Funda Fest also incorporates sessions for adults only. On Friday, January 25 is the 2nd Annual Liar’s Contest at the Roots Cultural Center and Café, 276 Westminster Street, Providence. From 7 pm – 10 pm the entertained become the entertainers in an evening of storytelling and spoken word. The event is coined a “liar’s contest” because in taking the stage to tell a story, it is often easier to compose a far-fetched tale than recall literal events. Though local spoken word artists are expected to take turns throughout the evening, no experience is necessary.

Each year the festival, along with traditional folklore, incorporates lessons in relevant social issues through fictional stories and workshops. In past years, workshops have focused on rhythm, storytelling, drumming, how to take care of your vocal cords, staying in physical shape, storytelling techniques, and how to create a story. Though some of these themes will be further explored this year, Funda 15 features lessons in bullying, heath concerns like obesity, and literacy, among others.

Each component of Funda Fest comes together at the end of the week for Family FUNDAy on the second Saturday, January 26, at the Southside Cultural Center on 393 Broad Street, Providence. Beginning at 10 am, adults who work with children – teachers, daycare providers, parents – are invited to learn the tricks of the trade that the Funda performers have been demonstrating all weekend. Participants will learn how to interact with children not only through story, but through means that are fun, educational, and motivating. Workshops for all ages will continue through 2 pm when a final family storytelling concert takes place. A digital storytelling session ends the family session with documentaries beginning at 4 pm. The evening wraps up with an adults-only storytelling concert. Unlike the Liar’s Contest, the audience will not be performing, but instead the Funda artists will share tales more suitable for a mature audience.

In its 15 years, Funda Fest has progressively and consistently changed for the better. Last year’s addition of the Liar’s Contest was a massive success, but also incorporated an entirely new demographic of attendees – adults  who are not drawn necessarily to the family concerts or workshops. In its 16th year, RIBS is looking to close the age gap and involve college students, Washington explained, who have a lot to teach and be taught, and in turn, will spread these teachings to their peers and curriculum at their universities, because after all, to produce a wider cultural understanding between all people, young and old, is to promote peace.

If this isn’t reason enough to check out what RIBS has to offer, “It’s a lot of fun,” added Ologboni enthusiastically, “I’ve been to more than 100 festivals in my life – this is the most enjoyable.”

Saturday January 19

Storytelling Workshop 10am – 2pm

Beneficent Congressional Church, 300 Weybosset St, Providence


Sunday January 20

Family Storytelling Concert 2pm

Westerly Public Library, 44 Broad St, Westerly


Monday January 21

MLK: Amazing Grace 11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm

Providence Children’s Museum

100 South Street, Providence


Tuesday – Friday, January 22 – 25

Storytelling in Schools and PCL Libraries

RIBS tellers and invited guests perform state wide

Thursday, January 24

Family Storytelling Concert 6:30 – 8pm


514 Blackstone Street, Woonsocket


Friday January 25

2nd Annual Liar’s Contest: Storytelling and Spoken Word 7-10pm

The ROOTS Cultural Center and Café, 276 Westminster Street, Providence

Saturday January 26

Family FUNDAy and vendor marketplace

Southside Cultural Center, 393 Broad Street, Providence

Morning storytelling workshops for adults and children, 10-11:30am

Afternoon cultural workshop, 12:30 – 2pm

Afternoon Family Storytelling Concert, 2:30 – 3:30pm

Digital Stories, 4 – 7pm

Evening concert for adults, 8pm

Sunday January 27

Family Storytelling Concert 2pm

Martin Luther King Center, 20 Marcus Wheatland Blvd, Newport