Funda Turns Sweet 16

fundaFestChrisJohnsonUPRhode Island Black Storytellers’ (RIBS) annual event welcomes in its 16thyear as the state’s premier, longest-running and only black storytelling festival: Funda Fest

I have been on both sides of the stage with Funda Fest as both a performer and an audience member, and I have to say the sheer power of this viva voce marvel is guaranteed to move you. Stretching across the state, caravaning in the week of January 19 through January 26 will be 10 of the most heartfelt and exciting storytellers you could possibly ever want to be responsible for your unguarded imagination.
Along with favorites Teju Ologboni from Milwaukee, Grammy nominated Christylez (pronounced Chris Styles) Bacon, and renowned storyteller Eshu Bumpers, making their debut appearance in the state and headlining the festival will be will be the performance duo of In the Spirit (vocalist Glenda Zahra Baker and storyteller Emily Hooper Lansana) along with the celebrated cast of the Rhode Island Black Storytellers.
More than 20 years ago, Emily Hooper Lansana and Glenda Zahra Baker came together to form Performance Duo: In the Spirit. They have developed an extensive repertoire of stories that carry us on enthralling journeys. Each performance celebrates the power of the word to connect, uplift and transform. Their interactive, spirit-filled stories and songs engage audiences in a memorable, soulful way.
Highlights of their performance history include: The National Association of Black Storytellers Festival and Conference, The National Storytelling Festival, The Illinois Storytelling Festival, Dance Africa Chicago and a number of museums, community and educational institutions across the country.
I first witnessed this production in 2006, when the featured performers hailed from New Orleans, in support of the tragedy that happened there. The night totally changed my perception of storytelling. The orator’s voice connected everyone in the room until in the silence was weaved a people quilt held together by the single thread of the storyteller’s voice. This is not just for bedtime; because of the magic and level of coziness crafted by orator after orator, by the end of the evening a village was molded from the raw clay of strangers. Now seven years later I can say the momentum has not let up. Year after year I have been thoroughly inspired and I can’t wait to see the gifts brought by Funda 16
I asked Valerie what was the impetus that sparked Funda Fest (Funda meaning to teach and to learn in Zulu and KiSwahili) 16 years ago. “In 1999, The Rhode Island Foundation had an initiative to celebrate black arts and artists in Rhode Island. For years previous to that, RIBS would travel every year to the National Association of Black Storytellers Festival (NABS) and a group pondered having such a thing in Rhode Island.” she said. Storytelling is how we inspire blacks to tell our story in all the dimensions of being human. It’s what gives us hope, and what makes us black while bringing a broader image of being black. She finished.
For full festival Information, join Rhode Island Black Storytellers on Facebook or check the website at