Happy summer, Odunde style

The high point of Odunde is a procession to the South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill to bring offerings of fruit, flowers, an dother items to Oshun, the deity of fresh water, beauty, and love. This is the 2011 festival. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
The high point of Odunde is a procession to the South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill to bring offerings of fruit, flowers, an dother items to Oshun, the deity of fresh water, beauty, and love. This is the 2011 festival. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 08, 2013

Oshunbumi Fernandez cannot remember a year without Odunde.

Philadelphia's annual festival of African culture was founded by her mother, Lois Fernandez, in 1975.

"I was strapped to my mother's back at the first Odunde," said Oshunbumi, better known as "Bumi," who has been the festival's chief executive officer since 2006.

"Running Odunde, to me, is like breathing."

The Odunde festival - meaning "happy new year" in the Yoruba language of West Africa, predominantly Nigeria - will mark its 38th anniversary on Sunday by transforming a swath of South Philadelphia into a giant marketplace of Africana.

The air will be filled with music and drumming, and thick with the aroma of authentic dishes. Of the few hundred thousand visitors expected to attend the one-day event, many will be there in African garb, adding to the vibrant atmosphere.

"Odunde is the only African American street festival left in the city of Philadelphia," Fernandez said. "We're honored by that, but we are also humbled."

Unity Day and the West Oak Lane Jazz Festival, she noted, have been discontinued. The nonprofit Odunde, meanwhile, not only pulls in impressive crowds, but also provides an economic boost of about $1 million for Philadelphia.

"We are truly blessed," Fernandez said. "Odunde does not have a big team. It does not have a PR committee. We are like 'the Little Engine That Could.' "

The festival runs along South Street from 21st to 24th Streets, from Naudain Street to Grays Ferry Avenue, and Christian Street along 23d. More than 100 vendors "from around the world come to Odunde, from Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, and Ghana and across the country" to sell food, clothing, and crafts, Fernandez said. "Odunde is an internationally known festival."

Adding to Odunde's international scope will be the presence of ambassadors from Cape Verde, Senegal, and Liberia.

The festival's high point is a procession beginning at noon Sunday at 23d and South Streets. Participants will walk to the South Street Bridge over the Schuylkill to bring offerings of fruits, flowers, and other items to Oshun, the Yoruba deity of fresh water, beauty, and love.

Noting that the festival comes at the end of spring, Fernandez considers Odunde "the unofficial kickoff of the summer." Others, she said, "call it the biggest family reunion they ever had, because you can come and see family members and friends that you haven't seen in years."

For 2013, Fernandez launched Odunde365, a year-round program "committed to teaching the public about the importance of African and African American culture" through arts and crafts, dance and drum classes.

Although the festival is only a one-day happening, related events occur earlier in the week. On Tuesday, influential Philadelphians told "My Story," tales of how they achieved success. Last Saturday, children got instruction in African dance and drumming during African Family Day at the Please Touch Museum.

On Saturday at 9 a.m., in an attempt to break into the Guinness Book of World Records, a massive Zumba class will take place outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Anyone who wants to become acquainted with the popular workout routine may register beginning at 8 a.m.

Also on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon, business opportunities in Africa will be discussed at a roundtable at the Enterprise Center in West Philadelphia, with the three African ambassadors scheduled to attend.

"What people need to know is that even though Odunde is an African-centered festival, it's for all cultures," Fernandez stressed. "Odunde is for everyone to come, learn, and enjoy."


Contact Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|