A Cultural Stronghold: A Chat with Juliet Cheatle of Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival

In partnership with the Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival, we are excited to welcome Juliet Cheatle to Seattle Children’s Festival, where she will showcase the Filipino culture through rural dance, music and attire!

Also known as the “Pearl of the Orient,” the Philippines is a country located in Southeast Asia comprised of 7,107 islands. With a population of about 100 million people, the Philippines is rich with cultural tradition, familial values and a love for the arts.

Since 1987, this festival has spread the beauty of Filipino culture with Washington, through its annual festival full of music, crafts, food and community gathering. As a part of our Movement Series, Juliet Cheatle will be teaching our audiences some traditional rural Philippine dances. Get to know Juliet before you see her at Seattle Children’s Festival on October 8:

What is something our audiences can expect from your performance?

I believe the audience will expect to see a lively and festive Filipino traditional dance and wherein dancers are wearing colorful costumes. And also the audience will see and feel a glimpse of Filipino culture by watching  the dances and by  participating in the workshop and actually will be dancing holding a prop and doing the moves.

What do you think is one of the most beautiful or unique aspects of the Filipino culture?

The most beautiful aspect of the Filipino culture is no doubt its people, the Filipinos.

“Despite of the many influences and colonization from foreign countries, the Filipinos still hold strong with their culture.”

Strong family ties are very important, and [showing] respect for parents and elders is still a strong [value] in the Filipino culture. Filipinos are hospitable and love to smile. They are hardworking people but they also know how to have good fun; they love to sing and dance.

How do you hope to preserve the Filipino culture through dance and attire?

I hope to preserve the Filipino culture through dance, music and attire by “keeping on” doing it, teaching it and involving more of the younger generation in learning it so they can teach it, too, when teachers like me won’t be around to do it.  The traditional dances are endangered and it’s continued transmission should go on. I hope more of our younger generation will continue on the work in preserving it.

My hope for community is interest and support, such as like financial support, grants and provide free space to teach in order to continue the teaching and transmission of this unique form of art and culture. If there is no support and interest, then there is danger that all of this will fade away.

How did you get involved with the Pagdiriwang Festival?

The late Ms. Florie Motante, founder of the Pagdiriwang Festival, invited my group to perform in Seattle Center (probably 15+ years ago).  The reason I was attracted and started to get involved with it is because it is different from other Filipino festivals that I attended. Pagdiriwang Festival is not only a festival to attend and see entertainment, but it is also a festival wherein you can learn about the traditional culture.

“The Pagdiriwang Festival points out the importance of why the culture needs to be preserve and why it is celebrated.”

It is important for my group and I to go and perform in front of an audience who doesn’t take what we do on stage for granted. I want my audience to not only be entertained but also to learn, appreciate what we are doing, understand the cultural context of what we are performing and to walk out the event feeling proud being a Filipino.  I believe that the Pagdiriwang Festival is also an experience. You will meet all kind of artists who are passionate in what they do in teaching and sharing the Filipino culture.

Can you explain the meaning or story behind some of your performances?

The dance and workshop that we are going to be sharing during the Seattle Children’s Festival are the following:

Binasuan:  This dance originated from the province of Pangasinan in the island of Luzon. During festive gatherings, the women will dance by carefully and gracefully balancing glasses filled with sugar cane wine on their heads and hands before they served it to the guests.

Bulaklakan Dance (meaning Flowering Plants): This dance originated from the town of Bulacan in the island of Luzon. The town derived its name after “bulaklakan” meaning flowering plants because of the abundance of floral vegetation in that area. This dance is traditionally performed during the celebrations of  Santa Cruz de Mayo , a Catholic event honoring the Virgin Mary. But nowadays, it is performed at any festive occasion. Women dance, each holding an arch or ring made of rattan or split bamboo decorated with flowers and leaves.

Why do you think it’s important to expose the youth to various cultures, identities, and people?

Exposing the youth to another culture and identity is teaching cultural diversity. They will be able to identify with other people no matter their [origin], beliefs, religion, language or values.

“Exposing our youth to various cultures, identities and people will teach them not to take their own culture for granted. They will learn and discover how valuable and how unique their own culture is.”

By doing this they will learn to be more respectful of another culture and identity. Exposing them is also like teaching them how to understand, and how to communicate with other culture and identity.

How do you live out the meaning of “folk life”?

I believe that we can celebrate all this by incorporating it in our daily life.  At home, at work, in school, in the church, in the community or any place appropriate. 

I use food to celebrate my Filipino culture and other cultures.  When my children were growing up, I had them plan dinner with me, and I let them invite friends over to have dinner with us. We started by going to a market or grocery store to buy our ingredients. My children and their friends enjoyed the food and, at the same time, they learned about it. We talk about where the food originated, the certain kinds of foods that were used in a ritual, why the food is important in someone’s culture, etc.

I do the same thing in my workplace. We have Chinese, French, Italian, Nigerian [folks] in our office and every Friday, we have lunch where we order or we prepare different kinds of foods. Since our company has projects worldwide, our engineers travel a lot, too, and they share their travel experiences with the rest of us.

Anyone of us can celebrate arts, culture, heritage, diversity and identity in many different ways.

Let’s come together and celebrate our big neighborhood at the 4th Annual Seattle Children’s Festival, happening on October 8 at Seattle Center. Pagdiriwang Festival’s special performance featuring Juliet Cheatle will be at the Armory Court Stage at 3:30 PM. A special thank you to the Armory Court Stage sponsor, KCTS 9!

Events like this are made possible by Friends of Folklife and your generous donations. See you there!

Seattle Children’s Festival: Website | Full Schedule | Facebook Event Page

The Legend of Song: An Interview with Te Fare O Tamatoa

The core of our annual Seattle Children’s Festival is to create a space for youth and families to get to know their neighbors and the diverse cultures that thrive within our big neighborhood. One of those cultures that we’re very excited to have represented at this year’s festival is the beautiful Polynesian culture. Te Fare O Tamatoa, a nonprofit organization based in Beacon Hill, strives to raise cultural awareness by educating the public about Tahitian drumming and dancing.

Comprised of members of all ages, Te Fare O Tamatoa spreads the beauty of the Polynesian culture through offering drumming and dance classes and performing at various festivals and gatherings. We are so excited to have Te Fare O Tamato at this year’s Seattle Children’s Festival. Check out our interview with Nanave Radford, the Artistic Director of their dance group, Te’arama, where we chatted about the Polynesian culture and what we can expect from their performance at the upcoming festival on October 8!

We are so excited to have you at this year’s Seattle Children’s Festival! Can you give us a little hint of what to expect from your performance?

Your audience can expect a high energy performance of traditional Tahitian culture with some modern flare.

Can you explain the meaning of Te Fare O Tamatoa? How did it originate?

Te Fare O Tamatoa translates to ‘The House of Tamatoa.’ When we use the name Tamatoa, we are speaking of the King Tamatoa II from the island of Raiatea in French Polynesia. It is from him that our matriarch, Manio Radford and her family, are descended. Many of Te Fare O Tamatoa’s instructors and directors are of the Radford family and in trying to choose a name for our organization 10+ years ago, we decided to go with something that held true to our roots. Something that held meaning for us and who we are and what our mission is. Spreading Tahitian culture through song and dance from our culture to yours.

On your website, it says that dance was used as a way of communicating when there was no written language. What role do you think the arts play creating a form of communication within our multicultural community?

“Art is a very powerful and personal way of communicating. “

It is so important that these ways of sharing history, emotion, experiences, etc. stay alive in our communities because not only is it a unique way of expressing a group or one’s self, but it’s a part of who we are and where we have come from. Every culture is very different yet the same in some ways. We may not always understand each other when we speak. However, an image, a sound, or a dance, can all speak messages beyond what words can express. It’s a way to understand one another even if we can’t speak to one another

How do music and dance help you to celebrate the Polynesian culture? What role do the arts play in Polynesian culture?

These arts are a part of who we are as a people and who we always have been. Arts even beyond song and dance with things like jewelry and clothing/regalia. The role it plays is an identifier of who we are.

What is one thing about the Polynesian culture that you wish people knew?

“I wish people knew that Polynesia is more than Hawaii and Moana.”

Growing up a mixed Polynesian individual, it is nice to see this change. With the recent release of Disney’s Moana, the Polynesian culture has had great exposure, but I feel like this could also cause people to be confused. My older brother’s name is Tamatoa. People think he’s named after a shiny crab. he’s not; He’s named after the King from Raiatea.

What kind of stories do you share through song and dance?

Within our organization, our performance group, Te’arama, mostly shares legends. My favorite so far was our legend “Te Vahine aita-ata” which means the man eating woman. This woman keeps her daughter sheltered from everything until one day, a man makes it onto the grounds where he falls madly in love with the daughter. In the lovers’ plan to escape the mother, she finds out which leads to the eating of the man. There are of course songs of everyday life such as how to use the ground oven, the beauty of a woman, or falling in love, which we will also dance to.

What is one thing you learned from the founder of Te Fare O Tamatoa founder, Manio Radford, that you wish to pass on to future generations?

The importance of knowing your culture’s language. If we do not continue to speak our language, it will die.

Why do you think it’s important to expose the youth to various cultures, identities, and people?

Because it’s good to know that not all people are the same yet we can tend to have similarities within our different cultures.

How do you live out the meaning of “folk life”?

Our goal with Te Fare O Tamatoa is to share as much knowledge as we can about Tahitian and Polynesian culture. I personally am still very limited in my knowledge, but whatever I can share, I will and in whatever way that I can.

Join Te Fare O Tamatoa, Northwest Folklife and Seattle Center in celebrating Our Big Neighborhood at this year’s Seattle Children’s Festival, happening on Sunday, October 8, at Seattle Center. Witness the beauty of the Polynesian culture at Te Fare O Tamatoa’s performance at the Armory Court Stage from 4:15-5 PM.

Seattle Children’s Festival: Website | Full Schedule | Facebook Event Page

As We Head into the Festival….

For the last several months, we have been talking with all of you – our community – about the crossroads in front of us. After 45 years, what is the future of Northwest Folklife, why does it matter today, and how important do we think it is for the future?

Northwest Folklife is as important today as it was 46 years ago when it was founded, maybe even more so. The Pacific Northwest has always been and continues to be a dynamic and evolving place, an intersection of communities and their arts, cultures and traditions. The premise of Northwest Folklife, the joyous cause that underlies all we do, is the building of a more caring, understanding, just and empathetic society. We believe in celebrating the wonderfully unique ways in which all of us, each of our myriad communities, live life each day, how we dance, sing, and tell our stories. In this celebration, in our watching each other, in listening and participating, we come to better understand each other and we come to better understand ourselves.

We want to say thank you to all of the people who have already declared that we can Count Them In by giving to Northwest Folklife before the festival itself. Whether in response to our Spring Campaign or the Give BIG campaign or because you knew you wanted to contribute and didn’t wait to be asked, so many of you have expressed your support and made a contribution.

Thank you on behalf of an entire region that benefits from your support. Thank you for supporting more than 100 communities and over 5,000 artists who present their art, culture and heritage at the festival and thank you from the quarter of a million attendees who will celebrate, share and participate together during the Memorial Day Weekend Northwest Folklife Festival. You have made this all possible – thank you.

Now, we go into the 46th annual Northwest Folklife Festival. The weather forecast is perfect, the performers have been chosen and have spent months preparing. The stages are set. Sound systems are in place. Booths and vendors are setting up. Volunteers are signing up and being trained. The excitement is mounting, the anticipation growing. This is how it should be.

Only with the support of every person who comes through the entrances and has the means to give their daily donation in support, will we be able to continue to create the opportunities for all of our communities’ voices to be heard. It will only happen if the people who enjoy the Festival give during the Festival. If you do, together we will continue to create this uniquely Pacific Northwest community of communities.

So, welcome to your festival. Welcome to our community. Have a wonderful time. May your days at the Festival be filled with joy, exploration, and discovery.  May the days that follow be brighter and may all of us, as neighbors, be closer.

Explore the 20 Years of Festál at the Northwest Folklife Festival

For 46 years, Northwest Folklife has brought diverse communities of the Pacific Northwest together on the grounds of Seattle Center, the city’s central gathering space. Northwest Folklife shares these same grounds year-round with Festál, the Center’s presenting organization that works with 23 community organizations to bring festivals like Diwali, Tet Festival, CroatiaFest, Spirit of Indigenous People, and more to Seattle Center. As Festál Turns 20 in 2017, Northwest Folklife celebrates the ground-breaking, community-organizing work for which Festál is known.

Here’s a sneak peek at what’s in store!

Theatre Presentations:

Around the World through Cultural Attires

Travel around the world through cultural attires, jewelry and traditional accessories. The Cultural Attire showcase will showcase 14 Festál cultures including Hmong, Tibet, Poland, China, Africa, Japan and more. Saturday, May 27, 3:00-5:00PM in the Charlotte Martin Theatre 

Northwest Folklife, Seattle Center and Jack Straw Cultural Center presents Festál Turns 20 Music Collaboration Showcase

Celebrating the common threads of music from around the world, experience a one-of-a-kind showcase that highlights 9 distinguished musicians representing Festál Cultural Festivals in solo performances and a special live collaboration.

Saturday, May 27 from 7:00-10:00PM in the Cornish Playhouse

 Iranian Festival presents Baran Dance Ensemble, music with Ayla, poetry by Ali Ghambari and Gazalle Willecke

Sunday, May 28 from 7:00-9:00PM in the Cornish Playhouse


Northwest Folklife Festival - Festal Turns 20Panel Discussions:

The Birth of Festál

With John Merner, Dennis Caldirola and Andy Frankel

Saturday, May 27, 4:00-5:00PM on the Narrative Stage

Cultivating Cultures

With Steven Sneed, Latha Sambamurti, Kabao Xiong and Juliet Cheadle

Sunday, May 28, 4:00-5:00PM on the Narrative Stage


Festal launch, Seattle Center, 1997

Food Demonstrations:

Festival Sundiata presents Lillian Rambus from Simply Soulful

Cooking “Peach Cobbler”

Saturday, May 27, 12:00-12:45PM on the Cultural Cuisine Stage


Festa Italiana presents Brad Inserra from Red House Beer, Wine Shoppe & Tapas Bar

Cooking “Aglio e Olio”

Monday, May 29, 12:00-12:45PM on the Cultural Cuisine Stage


Music Performances:

BrasilFest presents VamoLÃ! Brazilian Drum & Dance Ensemble, Bloco Alegria Samba Band, Samba OlyWa, Brazilian Violin Trio, Show Brazil!

Sunday, May 28, 5:00-8:00PM on the Mural Amphitheatre


Hands-on Activities:

Diwali: Festival of Lights presents two very special cows who live at the Seattle Center. Learn about the importance and significance of these animals to the Vedic culture. Monday, May 29 from 11:00AM-6:00PM in the Discovery Zone


Spirit of Indigenous People presents Longhouse Media Films with Tracy Rector

Sunday, May 28, 5:00-7:00PM in the SIFF Film Center


Festival Sundiata presents We Shall Not Sleep -The Voices of Our Ancestors by Gary Giles

Monday, May 29, 1:45-2:45PM in the SIFF Film Center


Pagdiriwang Philippine Festival presents Philippine Rural Dance, Music and Attire

Join the Filipinas Performing Arts of Washington State (FPAWS) with dancer and choreographer Juliet Omli-Cawas Cheatle, to learn rural dances from the Philippines. Saturday, May 27, 5:15-6:00PM in the Armory Court Stage.


Visual Arts:


The Art of Festál

Explore a range of topics from historic artifacts to contemporary ideas of belonging, place, and beauty from Festál organizations including Arab Festival, Hmong New Year Celebration, Italian Festival, Live Aloha, Polish Festival Seattle, and TurkFest.

Friday, May 26 – Monday, May 29, 11:00AM – 7:00PM in the Art Not Terminal Gallery


Northwest Folklife Mythbusters #3

We sing, dance, play music, tell stories, teach our children, remember our ancestors, and share our meals all year long. Folk live life every day and Northwest Folklife creates opportunities for all of us all year long to celebrate, share, to be included and participate in the arts and culture of the Pacific Northwest.

Northwest Folklife has programming all year long – the Seattle Children’s Festival in October, the Cultural Arts Series and Folklife Presents. We work all year to support many of the 23 regional community organizations who compose the Seattle Center Festal Cultural Festivals. We work all year with over 100 Folklife Community Coordinators representing the unique needs of each community, their artists and culture bearers, and their audiences. And all year long, we celebrate with different communities with Nights for Folklife events.  And of course, the annual Memorial Day Festival.

Join us, join each other – every day.

This is Folklife Spotlight: Kristi Brown

Also known as ‘Chef Goddess’, Chef Kristi Brown-Wokoma has been serving up soulful deliciousness since 1986. Her brand focuses on the art and experience of food through Culinary Activism, or the cultivation of fresh food and cooking as a means to bring people together and help heal communities through the love and medicine of food.

With 23 years of cooking experience under her belt, the Chef Goddess has worked her way up from working front and back of house to creating a Seattle town favorite, That Brown Girl Catering, which has been transformed into That Brown Girl Cooks! She is currently involved with creating the Seattle Center Festál cookbook and you can see her demonstrating her skills at Festál Family Day “Edible Seattle” at MOHAI on Feb 18th! Let’s find out more about Kristi!

What role do you see Festál playing in the greater community? 

Festál is an birds eye experience of what Seattle has long been. A distinct celebration of several cultures throughout the entire year, not on a designated federal holiday.  Festál has taken the initiative to give us an opportunity to learn, celebrate and actively take part in cultures that we may be a part of or are curious about.  That helps us see the connections more so than the differences.

Why do you think Festál has endured for so long?

I believe Festál has lasted so long because at the core spirit of Seattle, there is a deep desire to honor the people of the land and the dedication to continue to create even more community.

How does food and cooking nurture the passing down of cultural traditions? And of cultural, ethnic identity?

Next to sex, I believe food is the most powerful medium to bring people together.  So families, even when they are not talking to one another, will share a meal.  We speak out our joys and grievances over food.  We seek solace and comfort in the warm kitchen. And these meals tell the stories,  the tales of who we are, where we came from and it all amalgamates in the pot. And those stories are passed on from one generation to another. It truly is magical.

Please share a memory connected to creating the Festal cookbook that was meaningful to you?  

There are so many….

I think it’s more of a behind the scene thing.  We truly had no idea what we were getting into.  Meaning the intricacies of each cultures food, the techniques, the respect for authenticity….it guided everything we did.  But my crew???  They were phenomenal!!! While we were making the Irish Cake, one of the volunteers, Trenita Harris, who is an amazing pastry chef, saw that I was clueless when it came to part of the decorating of the cake.  It was pretty extensive, and we were working on a tight tight deadline.  She actually took the cake home, after working her regular graveyard shift and a full shift helping cook/bake for the cookbook and totally decorated the cake in marzipan…it was amazing!!!  The dedication that everyone bought to the table….was unparalleled!  I’m so grateful for the entire crew….WE DID IT!!!

What would you like to see for the future of Northwest Folklife?

I would like to see it listed a pre-requisite for every newcomer to Seattle, because if you don’t take part in this celebration, you will never truly understand the spirit in our land.  And if you don’t understand us, you will disrespect what we’ve built.

Please finish this sentence: ‘folklife is…

Folklife is like soup.  I’ll go even further and say…It’s like Pho. The rich broth brings together each individual ingredient. But not even one of the ingredients are lost, they all stand out, to make the most prolific soup possible!!!

This is Folklife Spotlight: Steve Sneed

Today we introduce you to the Managing Artistic Director of Cultural Programs at Seattle Center Productions, Steve Sneed.

Steve oversees Seattle Center Festál, a series of 24 cultural festivals throughout the year on campus.  In its 20th anniversary this year, he has developed a unique perspective on the cultural climate of the Center.

What role do you see Festál playing in the greater community? Why do you think Festal has endured for so long?

Festál as a convener of the ethnic organizations celebrating culture at Seattle Center, is a connector. We help the organizations get better at presenting festivals and we support that effort.

How does Festál nurture the role of ‘culture bearer’? 

I think the best way we do that is by putting these “culture bearers” in the same room together monthly and provide a venue for them to share with each other.

What has been the result of your partnership with Northwest Folklife on you and your community?

Over the years Northwest Folklife has proven a place where cultural groups can get a foot in the door at Seattle Center. They see the possibilities for a cultural festival by working in and with Folklife. Then, they want to continue so they come over to see me and in some cases join Festál.

What would you like to see for the future of Northwest Folklife?

I’d like to see the development of more ethnic folk music and arts at Folklife with the understanding that Folk music is not one kind of music. All cultures have folk traditions and Folklife has such a great platform to spread that news.

Please share a memory connected to Northwest Folklife that was meaningful to you?  

It’s actually working on the committee with the Traditional Roots of Hip Hop 2015 Cultural Focus. I learned a lot about the organization and just what the Cultural Focus is. I met more staff people and got to know them. That was a great experience.

Please finish this sentence: ‘folklife is…

…a major part of Seattle culture and character.

Festál Turns 20 FÊTE

“I recall at one of the early Festál 20th committee meetings that someone said the anniversary party should be like a grand circus. We have done all we can to make that vision a reality.”
– Steve Sneed, Seattle Center, Managing Artistic Director




This Sunday is the official kick off 20th anniversary celebration of both Northwest Folklife Festival’s Cultural Focus and Seattle Center’s Festál with the Festál Turns 20 FÊTE at the Fisher Pavillion! All 24 ethnic festivals will be represented through food, drink, décor, performance, dance, art, exhibits, and music and there will also be an opportunity to donate to ensure the legacy of this series of ongoing cultural festivals.

Japanese, Italian, African American, Mexican and Arab cuisine with wines from around the world will be served, along with a special tasting of French and Italian wines. Make Japanese origami, an authentic Hawaiian lei or a Marita Dingus African doll from re-cycled materials. Bollywood and Irish dance will bring excitement to the evening, along with a Vietnamese lion dance. A fashion show will showcase traditional and contemporary fashion from Croatia, Africa, Vietnam, Iran, and India. Experience music from the Seattle Center ethnomusicologist James Whetzel, who will deejay the event with sounds from the Festál series. The evening closes with a cup of rich Turkish coffee.

Festival leaders, volunteers and the greater community are invited to join in a night of cultural celebration and festivity. FÊTE attendees will experience the breadth of cultural and ethnic expression in the Pacific Northwest with live performances, wine tasting and food. This benefit gala not only launches the 20th anniversary year of Seattle Center Festál–it is also a night to honor the community leaders who have shaped the series throughout the past 20 years. Northwest Folklife and Festál share a like mission to raise awareness of cultural heritage, and engage folks in opportunities to celebrate, share, and participate in the evolving cultural traditions of the Pacific Northwest. Join us and celebrate the reach of Festál in our city and beyond!

Balkan Performers

Mary Sherhart Shares Her Joy for Folklife 2016

Balkan Performers

L-R Aglika Ivanova VanHorn, Violeta Tihova, Penka Encheva. Photo by Mary Sherhart.

The Northwest Folklife Festival was particularly joyful for me this year and that’s saying something, as I have been involved as a performer in almost every Folklife Festival over its 45-year history. Folklife always offers an opportunity to see friends from near and far as all the different communities in my Balkan music and dance scene converge – Croatians, Bulgarians, Balkan dancers, Balkan choirs and more. Whether it’s meeting for a beer in the beer garden, attending friends’ performances or getting on stage myself, so many new and joyful memories are created each year.

What was so extra special about this year? For one, I was invited to emcee the cultural theme showcase concert at Bagley Wright Theatre, “The Power of the Human Voice through Song,” fabulously curated by Folklife Programs Director Kelli Faryar. As a life long singer, choir director and singing teacher, this theme is particularly close to my heart. This is one of a very few universal themes that unifies humans in a ever more divided world. It was so much fun meeting the artists before the show to ask them questions mining for interesting tidbits to use in my introductions. Icing on the cake, I couldn’t have been more proud to introduce my own choir, Bulgarian Voices of Seattle Women’s Choir, as part of the show. Golly, I was practically bursting with pride. All the women in this choir were born in Bulgaria. They range in age from 25-82 and have developed a close bond through singing and sharing our lives. They looked so beautiful in their traditional costumes and sounded fabulous in that excellent theater. 72-year-old Penka Encheva even received a standing ovation from the audience for her solo. What a moment!

Baba Penka

Baba Penka

Speaking of Grandma Penka, here’s another reason I found Folklife so extraordinary this year. She was featured in two more events! First, she taught a traditional Bulgarian singing workshop attended by 67 people. It was deeply moving to see her surprise and delight. This is a woman who came to the United States in 2010 at age 67, leaving everything and everyone behind in Bulgaria, to help care for her grandsons in Renton. She had been a singer in Bulgaria as a young woman, but followed a different professional path, becoming a middle school biology teacher in Bulgaria. She thought her singing life was long over, but joining our choir brought it back to her. Can you imagine how it felt for her to see 67 mostly Americans turn out to learn songs from her, to receive a standing ovation at a major festival AND have a documentary film about her screened at SIFF.

The Bulgarian Cultural and Heritage Center of Seattle and I produced a 30-minute documentary about Penka entitled “Tazi Baba / This Baba” directed by the talented local filmmaker originally from Bulgaria Bogdan Darev. Folklife screened the film on Monday after Penka’s singing workshop. She was absolutely beaming as she answered questions from the audience in a panel with Bogdan and me. All of this is like a miracle to our Penka.

Finally, it was an incredible privilege to be able to share my insights and experience on a panel entitled, “Building Community By Singing.” Janet Stecker, Fred West, Earle Peach and I have years and years, basically our entire lives, worth of creating and leading people in song. How wonderful to have the opportunity to speak on something that we believe in so deeply. Where else but Folklife?

Come Monday night I was completely exhausted, saturated, fulfilled and basking in a rosy glow. Thank you to the staff, board, artists, volunteers, donors, sponsors, audiences and families. We are so lucky to have this community-powered festival in Seattle!

Balkan Performers

Balkan Performers. Photo by Mary Sherhart.

Blog post by Mary Sherhart, Friend of Folklife. Mary Sherhart is one of America’s leading teachers and performers of traditional Balkan vocal music. Learn more about Mary’s folk art.

Become a Friend of Folklife

An Interview with RingSide Slam

The poetry slam bandwagon has been incredibly successful at creating one thing that other art projects have not – a close-knit, distinct, and vibrant community of writers and creators who support one another’s cleverness through spoken word. So, ask yourself, what can I do in 3 minutes and 10 seconds?

In 3 minutes and 10 seconds RingSide Slam can: inspire mentoring, stimulate bold creativity and engage communities worldwide in the revelry of language! RingSide Slam is a new head-to-head poetry slam in Seattle who is calling all poets, Hip-Hop heads, rhymers and dreamers to come out and join them on stage the last Friday of each month @ Red Lounge. These artistic events are a judged competition where participants recite original poetry in a style known as ‘spoken word,’ and have a time limit of 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Poems are expressively and rhythmically performed to an audience who is the deciding factor of eliminations and winners.

Northwest Folklife is honored to get the chance to interview two talented ladies from RingSide Slam – the Host, Nikki Etienne (a.k.a. “Momma Nikki”) and Slam Master, Nikkita Oliver (a.k.a. “K.O.”).



Both Seattle natives?


Born in Cali, but grew up here.


Born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. Moved to Seattle in 2004 for college. Stayed ever since.



Why the name RingSide? Your Facebook and website use images of Muhammed Ali quite often. Is that related to the name choice or more the style of this particular poetry slam?


We had this concept of an idea with having a head-to-head kind of show.


In addition to what Nikki said, I am also a boxer and think of boxing as an art. I find lots of connections between poetry slam, rap/emcee battles and what happens in the boxing ring. For me, it was birthed out of my boxing and art experience combined. I also think we both have strong connection emcee/Hip Hop/Poetry as a part of black culture – Ali and Malcolm X resonate with both of us, our lives, our art, our experiences.



Would you say that the atmosphere at RingSide is more relaxed than a traditional slam? Does it seem like a good place for first-timers and people who haven’t slammed before?


I think the vibe of our slam is more than just a slam, because we bring Hip Hop into the entire night. We have a local DJ that plays throughout the whole night. The vibe is art! It’s poetry and Hip Hop. Its soul. It’s home. It doesn’t matter if you’re a vet or a first timer…All Are Welcome!



When you first had the idea to create RingSide, did you feel like there weren’t many platforms for poets and emcees to come together and perform anymore? You mentioned it taking things back to the heart of it, so was this art form sort of falling by the wayside in Seattle?


I don’t think the art form is dying, but the space where self-proclaimed emcees cross with self-proclaimed poets is more limited in Seattle than other art scenes I have been in. We just wanted to get the two paths crossing more. I personally have gained a lot from emcees as a poet and a lot from poets as an emcee. This has turned me into a free-styling cyphering emceeing poet. Selfishly, I wanted to grow my art more – SHOUT OUT to Cornerstone, a dope event that used to be at Faire on Cap Hill. This is where I got into spoken word and emceeing.


There are a lot of open mics, or there used to be more, but many fell off, but I was part of an open mic & Artist showcase for a few years that brought some of the same elements we are bringing to RingSide. It was called Cornerstone.



Do you see RingSide Slam as a way to bring elements of black culture to the community?


I see it as a way to share with others who I am – I am black and mixed and queer and woman. I hope others feel it is a space they can do the same. I am also very invested in re-building the black art presence in this city. We are in the start of the central district, an historically black neighborhood. Poetry and Hip-Hop have always been a place to salute history and build something beautiful in the present and the future. I hope that is what we are doing while also honoring the heritage of the art forms as well as our own ancestors and ancestral roots.



Do you think performing/slamming is something all poets should try? What benefits or differences do you see in slam/spoken word versus print or online?


Slamming isn’t for everyone and as I’ve told Nikkita before, honestly, I really don’t like standard slamming. It takes away from the core of why people started writing in the first place. Slammers write pieces strictly for slams and that’s great if that’s what you want to do, but if it’s just about the art – about the expression or the need to release your creativity – then don’t limit me to 3 minutes. As an all-around artist, poet/MC/singer/dancer/photographer/painter, basically anything involving the arts, art may be subjective, but if it’s coming from the artists core of who they are. Then it should be expressed.


Folklife would like to thank Nikki and Nikkita from RingSide Slam for taking the time to chat. Come join their unique and artistic poetry slams the last Friday of each month @ Red Lounge. The Northwest Folklife Festival is ecstatic to include RingSide Slam as a part of this year’s Culture Focus! Their performance will be held on Saturday, May 23 at the Cornish Playhouse Stage from 2:00-3:00 p.m. Beat your way to RingSide Slam as they make abstract things concrete poetically.

Speak Out!

When communications theory philosopher Marshall Mcluhan wrote “the medium is the message,” he could very well have been referring to hip-hop.  MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching, break dancing and graffiti writing are more than just an art or a performance style.

6NtheMorning COVERDr. Daudi Abe, professor of Humanities at Seattle Central College and author of 6’N the Morning: West Coat Hip-Hop Music 1987 -1992 & the Transformation of Mainstream Culture (Over the Edge Books, 2013) calls hip-hop “a living cultural movement.”

“American rapper, singer, and actor Ice-T said rap is something you do – hip-hop is something you live,” he notes. “In the 80s, if you listened to underlying messages, hip-hop was a portent, a warning, for what was going to happen next. Similar to a news broadcast, it was a lot more political than the general public realized.”

During the 70s and 80s, Seattle was known for its rock ‘n’ roll. Natives like Jimi Hendrix and Nancy and Ann Wilson (Heart) were giving global attention to the “Emerald City.”  But alongside rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop was emerging here, sparked by New York City’s hip-hop culture.

“From the beginning, hip-hop was very much about challenging the status quo – this was especially true of graffiti art,” says Dr. Abe. “During the late 60s and early 70s, hip-hop was a response to repression. Young people felt disconnected and marginalized from mainstream culture.  It was the first medium to give fearless, explicit voice to young, black males. It was used as a way to push back, tell who you were, where you were from and to make your mark.”

Over the past 40 years, Hip Hop culture has seen dramatic changes since its early start on independent record labels. Edgy experimentation has given way to conglomerate blueprints. Within mainstream acceptance, it has evolved. Critics worry the “essence of hip-hop” and its “news broadcast” may have been compromised in the process.

But amidst this change, Macklemore’s multiple Grammy wins suggest hip-hop is becoming part of a larger narrative and a platform on which anyone can make a culturally relevant political stand. And as in its beginnings, it’s still a potent lens through which the artist views the world.

“Jazz, Reggae, Blues, Hip-Hop – these are all necessary to a vital society because they spring from creative energy within oppressed populations,” Dr. Abe observes. “Life experience informs ones’ views. We have a long way to go. But getting together and talking about these divergent views is the kind of dialogue which will help get us past our differences.  I’m honored to be a resource for Northwest Folklife and to assist in making this year’s cultural focus successful. ”

Northwest Folklife & 206 Zulu Take on 2015 Cultural Focus

Every year we have the esteemed privilege here at Northwest Folklife to dig in deep to a cultural community with roots here in the Pacific Northwest through our Cultural Focus program. Last year we looked at “India and Its People” and the year before that the unions with “Washington Works.” Every year it’s an eye opening and treasured experience and this year is not different.

 “Beats, Rhymes, and Rhythms: Traditional Roots in Today’s Branches” is a powerful Cultural Focus and we are honored to be connected to and working with Seattle’s powerful Hip Hop community among many – namely, for purposes of this post, 206 Zulu, the Seattle chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation. They will have a helping hand in bringing Folklife’s 2015 Cultural Focus to life this year.

206 Zulu’s focus is to utilize the artistic elements of Hip Hop and urban arts as a platform for positivity and community empowerment within youth and families. They will be celebrating their 11th Anniversary with a series of community events, February 6-8 (you can learn all about these on our Community Calendar here) and in their honor, we’re excited to share a little bit more about 206 Zulu.

206 Zulu's King Khazm206 Zulu co-founder and executive director King Khazm took some time to shed light on his organization, their mission, why the 2015 Northwest Folklife Festival’s Cultural Focus is so important, and what they’ve got planned to celebrate their 11th year. Take a read!

Hi King! Thanks for taking some time with these questions. Tell us, what is your personal relationship to Northwest Folkilfe?

The Northwest Folklife Festival has been an annual gathering spot for myself and peers since around the mid-90s when Hip Hop was first introduced to Folklife. Our organization was established in 2004 and we began a community partnership with Folklife, hosting various Hip Hop events as early as 2008.


206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 1What is your elevator pitch for 206 Zulu?

206 Zulu is Seattle’s Hip Hop cultural and community organization that utilizes the artistic elements of Hip Hop and urban arts as a platform for positivity and community empowerment within youth and families. 206 Zulu is also the Seattle Chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation, Hip Hop’s founding family and international community organization that has been pivotal in the inception and expansion of Hip Hop culture since the early 70s.


Happy 11th Anniversary! That’s big news. What does this landmark year mean to the organization and its community?

This February 6-8, 2015 we’ll be celebrating our 11th anniversary of 206 Zulu. The anniversaries are our flagship events of the year where we host a weekend full of programming that often includes music performances, workshops, panels, art showcases, local vendors and non profits, and dance competitions and showcases. Hip Hop has many artistic “elements” that it’s comprised of, however it isn’t always combined together. Our anniversaries are special because we unite the elements and bring respective communities together under one roof in the spirit of “Peace, Unity, Love & Havin’ Fun”.

206 Zulu has grown from a very small grassroots community group to an internationally esteemed non-profit organization. We are still “grassroots” in some regards and operate without any full time paid staff, however are so fortunate to have such an amazing community, and programmatically and organizationally have accomplished so much over the last decade.


How did 206 Zulu create its community?

206 Zulu’s membership is comprised of musicians, artists, producers, dancers, organizers, teachers, and various people in the community who either love Hip Hop or just want to be a part of something positive that is about serving the greater community. We build community through our interpersonal relationships with friends, families, peers, through our partnerships with other groups and organizations, as well as various schools, community centers, venues and spaces we connect with.


206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 2What do you think about Northwest Folklife’s 2015 Cultural Focus?

To see Hip Hop grow over the years and expand in new ways unimaginable has been truly remarkable. I would have never imagined a focus around roots of Hip Hop would be a Cultural Focus at Northwest Folklife. It’s a beautiful thing.


What would you like to see in Northwest Folklife’s Cultural Focus programming line-up?

DJ/turntablist exhibitions, live producer showcases, breakdance competitions and cyphers (open dance circles), graffiti and urban art expo, lots of music and performances, spoken word and poetry, drum circles, photography exhibitions, workshops, panel discussions, classes, but also the lineage of Hip Hop, which is just as important. (There is so much!) Funk, Soul, Blues, Reggae, Jazz, Gospel, African rhythms, Salsa, Rock, capoiera, martial arts, comic books, etc.


Who needs to know about this Cultural Focus and why?

Everyone – especially people who hate Hip Hop. People who hate it often don’t know the full spectrum of what it is and generally get their perspective of it through the media, which is often a complete misrepresentation of Hip Hop. Think corporate interest/market driven, commodified, materialistic, misogynistic, demonizing, ignorant, etc.

It’s completely understandable if the music of Hip Hop isn’t your cup of tea, but most people don’t see what the full spectrum of Hip Hop is, much less that it’s not just a genre of music.


206 Zulu - 11th Anni - 3So, what exactly do you have coming up that the Northwest Folklife community can experience?

Our anniversary is not just about celebrating the organization and its accomplishments, but celebrating our beloved community and the many communities within the community. Bringing people together in the spirit of positivity and community empowerment. Bringing generations together; honoring and preserving the past but also introducing the elders to the newest generations and seeing how Hip Hop and its elements are evolving. Children are present and become inspired while having fun with their families and other children. All of this IS the roots of Hip Hop. Hip Hop has very little to do with what you see on TV and hear on the radio. It’s much bigger than that. That’s why we do what we do and have events like these.

Aside from speaking to the roots of Hip Hop through practice, many of the workshops and panels elaborate and speak to the roots of Hip Hop directly, philosophically and historically.


Learn more about 206 Zulu here.