Though religious in foundation, the scope of the 10-day festival that leads up to Sunday's procession is broad and inclusive, comprising events from business workshops to an attempt to break the world record for largest Zumba class. Founder Lois Fernandez introduced the festival, now in its 37th year, to her native Philadelphia after participating in similar celebrations on a visit to Africa. Lois' daughter Oshunbumi Fernandez is Odunde's CEO. This year, she has expanded the festival from three to 10 days.
"This year is all about Bahia and Brazil," said Fernandez. Bahia, a northeastern state in Brazil, is the core of Afro-Brazilian culture, as it was once a locus of the slave trade. The port city of Salvador processed captured Africans in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. More than 37 percent of the Africans captured for the slave trade were sent to Brazil, and it is in Bahia that African culture and customs have made the most significant impact on South America — visible in Yoruba-derived religious systems, the martial art of capoeira and music like samba.
Odunde's theme looks ahead to 2014, when the World Cup soccer championship will be in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere in Brazil. In partnership with the Brazil Cultural Center, Odunde is hosting workshops on business opportunities with FIFA and the World Cup, as well as a roundtable discussion of how American businesses can break into African markets.
Besides broadening the view of what is thought of as "African," connecting with a wide audience is Fernandez's major goal for Odunde. "I want to have an activity for you, no matter what your demographic, your income level or age bracket," she said.
Documentary screenings, tastings of coffee and chocolate, dance performances and receptions for diplomats from Guinea, Ivory Coast and Cameroon all lead up to Sunday's ceremony, which is followed by one of America's oldest and largest African-American street festivals, featuring African food, music and vendors from Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil.
But first, on Saturday, Zumba enthusiasts are encouraged to come out the Art Museum steps at 8 a.m. to register for the record-breaking Zumba class attempt, which will start at 9 a.m. "We've been labeled Fat City," said Fernandez, referring to various reports that Philadelphia has a high percentage of overweight residents. "We're trying to break that stereotype."
Odunde Festival, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday, 23rd and South streets, odundefestival.org.
Art Attack is a partnership with Drexel University and is supported by a grant from the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.