Celebrating Black Voices

Funda Fest returns to mark 20 years of storytelling


For two decades, the Rhode Island Black Storytellers (RIBS) have hosted their annual Funda Fest to celebrate and showcase the voices, narratives and folk stories of black communities from around the world. In its 20th anniversary year, Funda Fest – which kicks off Saturday, January 13, with a Family Storytelling Concert at the Westerly Public Library – is shaping up to mark a triumphant milestone.

With a mission perfectly captured by its name – “Funda” means “to teach and to share” in both Zulu and KiSwahili – the festival has grown by appealing to everyone from local schoolchildren to adults. Launching the Saturday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the festival is a weeklong immersion in black history and culture, with more than 40 performances at local schools by storytellers from across the region.

Even as storytelling groups and performances become more popular across the country, Valerie Tutson, executive director of Rhode Island Black Storytellers, is confident that Funda Fest remains truly distinct among its peers. The one-of-a-kind lineup includes “From Shakespeare to Hip-Hop” on Sunday, January 14, at the Southside Cultural Center on Broad Street, an evening of performances dedicated to the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Sunday, January 20, at the Providence Children’s Museum, and the grand finale: “Grown Folks Storytelling: Feature Night” on Saturday, January 20, at the Southside Cultural Center.

But also, she says, unlike some other traditions, black storytelling is not a spectator sport. The storytellers are aiming to engage their audience in the stories, lives and experiences of the black community. That means more than just participation. It means that everyone becomes a part of the experience.