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Asheville gets a big dose of Afro-Caribbean culture this weekend with the return of Goombay Festival, the region's premiere event celebrating African and Caribbean heritage. Goombay, now nearing its 40th year, brings traditional music and dance, innovative performance, and of course delicious food, to downtown Asheville. This year, Goombay's focus returns to its roots in Asheville by focusing on local and regional talent. Goombay takes place on Saturday, September 8th, and Sunday, September 9th in Pack Square Park.
Long-time fans of Goombay will experience all of their favorite festival highlights, including top-notch live music and DJs, but this year performers will come from a bit closer to home. Festival organizer and current Sitting Chair of the YMI Stephanie Swepson Twitty, who is also the President and CEO of the Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation, wants to help ensure that the festival gives back to the community here in a whole new way. "As we looked at Goombay this year, we thought it was time to adopt a different growth model," says Swepson Twitty. "Asheville's economy is becoming more progressive for people of color, and we want the festival to be an economic opportunity for local people of color. We feel like local business and local talent is important to both the history and to the economic fabric of the community, and we wanted to give that an opportunity to thrive. This year’s Goombay will do that."
How will Goombay bring the focus closer to home? The music, for one. This year, there's no national headliner. Instead, musical talent will include Asheville's own Jonathan Santos, as well as Winston-Salem-based Da Urban Lion Tracks. Also slated to perform: the Ote'sha Creative Arts Ensemble, which will feature D.C.'s Chiek Malin, a stilt walker who will also do a solo performance during the weekend.Credit: Go Diva Photography
The strong Winston connection emerged from the YMI's partnership with Mashim Salih, former president of that city's National Black Theatre Festival, come on board to assist with planning. "This is the first year in my tenure that the board has driven the festival," said Swepson Twitty. "We have always had it professionally produced before, so we were fortunate to have Salih come alongside us."
Goombay draws approximately 7000 people to downtown Asheville for a day of free, kid-friendly celebration. The more local focus will also be apparent through food and beer vendors from the area. Food will highlight African and Caribbean cuisine, as well as some Southern fare from Green Opportunities' new food truck. Goombay's craft vendors will also be out in full force to share their wares with festival guests.
"Goombay offers a real opportunity for unity," says Swepson Twitty. "It's a chance to lay some of the tumultuous volatility that is going on in our country right now aside and just be in a moment where you can relax and enjoy your neighbor, where there’s not animosity. Nothing has to be right or wrong, which is an idea that's been at the heart of where we are with some of what’s going on in the country. It’s so not about that, it’s about equity and inclusion."
And of course, both start at home. "I hope that we would have great support from the community here as we try and redesign the model for Goombay to be more community- and local-driven," she finishes.
For the full Goombay schedule, click here. Festival kick-off takes place on Friday at 6 pm. The Kids' Corner will be open all day Saturday beginning at noon, and Goombay will finish at around 9 pm.