Minneapolis, MN – For more than two decades the Black Storytellers Alliance has celebrated the art of storytelling through festivals in and around the Twin Cities. During the weekend of September 22-24 the 25th annual Black Master Storytelling Festival took place.
Held over three nights with free admission, the festival’s aim is to expose folks in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area to the power of Black storytelling by featuring master storytellers from around the country.
Unicorn Riot was live for the grand finale show on September 24th at Hennepin County Library.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) September 25, 2016
Unicorn Riot spoke with a couple of the performers as well as the director of the festival:
Nothando Zulu and her husband Vusumuzi Zulu founded the Minnesota chapter of the Black Storytellers Alliance (BSA). The BSA is a non-profit organization whose mission is “to maintain the art of storytelling as a primary source for positive instruction and reinforcement of the rich beauty embodied in the telling of ‘the story'”.
Nothando, the president of the BSA, and her husband Vusi, the director of the festival, have been master storytellers for over 30 years. Both are members of the National Association of Black Storytellers (NABS) and their plan to create the Black Master Storytellers Festival was hatched from their work with NABS.
In the state of Minnesota, whose white population peaks around 85%, access to forms of non-European art is limited. The push to provide quality access to African and African-American arts in the metro area has been a constant struggle.
The BSA works to provide an outlet for master storytellers to spread the stories of the African diaspora. The storytellers we spoke to reinforced the importance of having spaces where Black storytelling is available to the community.
“Black storytelling is important and Black storytellers are important because it’s vital that we tell our stories in our own voices…When we really look at how we are portrayed in the media, it’s such a narrow view, and that is detrimental not only to our own people, but it’s detrimental to everybody to think that we are only what you see in that box on TV or on Facebook. We need to know the breadth of our history, the depth of our culture.” – Valerie Tutson, Master Storyteller
The BSA as a non-profit organization is able to host these festivals with the support of the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council and donations from the community. The master storytellers, who are paid a minuscule amount for their time, come from around the country to perform for the community, and to share in the love for storytelling felt by Nothando and Vusi.
“African-American based storytelling, well… it’s different. It is indeed very interactive. It is indeed one that speaks and addresses what our specific cultures are like. It tries to be very, very inclusive because it believes in humanity of all of us. and it starts with our own humanity. Why do we do it? Because it’s like a gift.” – Vusumuzi Zulu, Director, Black Storytellers Alliance
‘Courage IS contagious’ was the theme of this year’s festival that featured the storytellers pictured below.
When Unicorn Riot asked Vusi Zulu if a 26th annual festival is in the works, questions remained as he stated, “I’m not sure, we will see”. He pointed to his age and waning health as factors in the uncertainty, but he asserted the possibility of the younger generation continuing it forward, because, as he states:
“There is nothing more important than our stories.” – Vusumuzi Zulu, Director, Black Storytellers Alliance
Whatever may come next, the 25 years of uplifting storytellers’ voices and continuing the legacy and stories of the African diaspora has been beneficial to the Twin Cities area.
To watch parts of the 25th Annual Festival of Black Master Storytellers, see below:
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