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.
Susan Fried is a 40-year veteran photographer. Her early career included weddings, portraits, commercial work — plus she’s 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.
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