PHOTO ESSAY: Northwest Tap Connection’s Third Annual Gullah Geechee Festival

by Susan Fried


Melba Ayco, the founder and artistic director of Northwest Tap Connection is a Gullah Geechee and Creole storyteller and last Friday and Saturday, July 16 and 17, Northwest Tap celebrated their third annual Seattle Gullah Geechee Festival. Ms. Melba told stories about Gullah Geechee traditions around food, culture, and heritage. She talked about the importance of family and the practice of lifting the baby up during a Gullah christening, the significance of the conch shell in Gullah spirituality, and the history behind the “Emancipation” maypole. In-between the stories, Northwest Tap dancers and instructors performed numerous dances inspired by Gullah Geechee heritage.

Ms. Melba wasn’t sure if this year’s festival was going to happen. Northwest Tap Connection just returned from performing at a Juneteenth celebration in Louisiana a few weeks ago and the logistics of putting the event together during an ongoing pandemic and in a short amount of time were daunting. But Ms. Melba felt it was still important to hold the Seattle Gullah Geechee Festival. “For me personally I can tell you that this year is one of the most important years of all to have the Gullah Geechee Festival because for Black and Brown people this last year has been so traumatic,” she said. “We need to have a gathering of healing and that’s the standpoint I’m looking at for this year.”

The theme of this year’s festival was Sounds of Blackness: One Heart, Many Voices and included performances by Zambuko Marimba Ensemble, excerpts from Mama’z Muezz written and performed by Monique Franklin, and lots of performances by the incredible dancers of  Northwest Tap Connection.

Ms. Melba dances with Northwest Tap Connection Afro-Brazilian dance instructor Ms. Dora during the Gullah Geechee Festival on Friday July 17.
Melba’s daughter, Shaina Arielle Proctor, and two of her three grandchildren watch the performances during the Gullah Geechee Festival at the Northwest Tap Connection Studio on Rainier Avenue South on July 17.
Jabari Rashidi plays marimba with  the Zambuko Marimba Ensemble during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Owur Arunga dances to the music of the Zambuko Marimba Ensemble during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Ms. Melba Ayco explains the significance of the conch shell in Gullah Geechee culture.
Northwest Tap Connection’s Youth Tap Ensemble performs on July 17 during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Joe Williams laughs at one of Ms. Melba’s stories during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Northwest Tap Connection Afro-Brazilian dance instructor Ms. Dora Oliveria performs during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Northwest Tap Connection Afro-Brazilian dance instructor Ms. Dora Oliveria performs during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Ms. Melba Ayco holds up her granddaughter, Sirena Proctor (1), as part of a traditional Gullah Geechee christening.
Eyoub Endris dances during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Eyoub Endris’s parents are introduced to the audience at Northwest Tap Connection during the Gullah Geechee Festival, on Saturday, July 17. Their son has been dancing with Northwest Tap for 12 years.
A father and his children enjoy a performance by Northwest Tap Connection’s Youth Tap Ensemble during the Gullah Geechee Festival July 17.
A Northwest Tap Connection student dances during the Gullah Geechee Festival.
Volunteers from the audience learn to plait a maypole. The tradition was practiced by the Gullah Geechee people in recognition of Emancipation Day. 
The Zambuko Marimba Ensemble performed on Saturday, July 17, at Northwest Tap Connection’s Third Annual Gullah Geechee Festival.
Monique Franklin dances with her daughter Akilah to the music of the Zambuko Marimba Ensemble during the Gullah Geechee Festival at Northwest Tap’s studio on Rainier Avenue.

Susan Fried is a 40-year veteran photographer. Her early career included weddings, portraits, commercial work — plus shes been The Skanner’s Seattle photographer for 25 years. Her images have appeared in the University of Washington Daily, the Seattle Globalist, Crosscut, and many more. She’s been an Emerald contributor since 2015. Follow her on Instagram @fried.susan.

Featured Image: Northwest Tap Connection’s Youth Tap Ensemble performs on July 17, 2021, during the Gullah Geechee Festival. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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