18th Annual Funda Fest: A Celebration of Black Storytelling

Every year about this time something amazing happens. I have had the pleasure of being part of it whether sitting in the audience or on the stage. This year, FUNDA Fest turns 18 and is stepping into adulthood with some brand new moves, like live jazz and spoken word, a performance at Brown University’s Rites and Reasons with their resident Spoken Word group “WORD!”, and rumor has Cape Verdian hip-hop artist and Providence’s own Chachi Carvalho will be a special guest.
I spoke with FUNDA Fest originator Valerie Tutson who told me, “In this present time, there are enough negative stories floating around; we want to deliver victories, voices and culture, because there really isn’t one black culture.”
This year Rhode Island Black Storytellers brings some amazing partnerships with local talents like Monique Rolle Johnson, Mr. Deep Positivity, Poetry Slam Champion and Rudy Cabrera who will be performing his one-man show. If this doesn’t conjure enough excitement to beat old man winter, Community Music works is set to perform with the one who started it all — Valerie Tutson herself.
FUNDA also will be bringing back some old favorites. Madam’s Backyard Bash is back with Rhode Island musical legend’s Mebitt Threats, Paul “Sweet P” Williams, Alvin Terry and Frank Wiltkins on jazz and local legendary spoken word artist Raffini told me she will be holding positions for local artists to come in and perform with the band.

FUNDA Fest: A Celebration of Black Storytelling lasts from Martin Luther King’s birthday (Monday) through the following Sunday, every January. Tellers present a variety of performances and workshops throughout Rhode Island, from school performances for K-12, to intergenerational and family workshops, to evening spoken word and storytelling concerts for adult audiences.


Karen “Queen Nur” Abdul-Malik is a nationally renowned storyteller and teaching artist. She has performed in venues from the Kennedy Center in Washington DC to Equity Theater on Broadway, from the National Black Storytelling Festival to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesboro. She has been the recipient of Mid-Atlantic Artist as Catalyst grants for her work with Teens-at-Risk and women’s shelters and the National Storytelling Brimstone Grant for her innovative community-based programs. Mother of three and grandmother of two, Queen received her Master of Arts in cultural sustainability from Goucher College, and a certificate in dispute resolution from Harvard Law School.

Teju Ologboni, FUNDA Fest favorite, is a master storyteller and folklorist of international renown. Teju draws his listeners into stories with gestures and movements, and sometimes with traditional African instruments. An author, teacher, poet, actor, dancer and verbal illusionist, Teju 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.

Len Cabral is a nationally acclaimed storyteller and author who has been enchanting audience since 1976. His strong Cape Verdean ancestry comes alive in his exuberant retelling of Cape Verdean, African and Caribbean tales.

Ramona Bass Kolobe, The Watermelon Lady, is a story wheeler. Miss Ramona 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!

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 theater, telling stories and nurturing the spiritual and creative abilities of youth.

Valerie Tutson, has traveled in Africa, Europe and North America to gather and share stories. Her repertoire includes myths, folktales and historical and personal stories with an emphasis on African traditions.

Rochel Garner Coleman, an actor, singer and 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.


Saturday, January 16, 2016 New Day!

Family Storytelling Concert: 2pm,  Westerly Public Library, 44 Broad St, Westerly.

Sunday January 17 New Event!

Madam’s Backyard Bash: Live Jazz and Spoken Word: 2 – 4pm, Southside Cultural Center, 393 Broad St, PVD.

Monday, January 18

MLK: Amazing Grace at the Providence Children’s Museum: 11:30am, 1pm & 2:30pm shows. 100 South St, PVD.

Tuesday through Friday, January 19 – 22

Storytelling in the Schools

Thursday, January 21

Family Storytelling Concert: 6:30 – 8pm, YWCA of RI, 514 Blackstone St, Woonsocket

Friday January 22

New Venue! Spoken Word: 7:30pm

Liar’s Contest: Tell your biggest lie before a panel of judges. Prizes available. 8:30pm, Mixed Magic Theatre, 560 Mineral Spring Ave, Pawtucket.

Saturday, January 23  New Venues!

Family Storytelling Concert: 1pm, Rochambeau Library, 708 Hope St, PVD.

Storytelling Concert for Adults: 7:30pm, Rites and Reason Theatre, 155 Angell St, PVD

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Family Storytelling Concert: 2pm, Martin Luther King Center, 20 Marcus Wheatland Blvd, Newport

Full Festival Pass allows access to all ticketed events.