Every year the Gullah/Geechee Nation gathers together to celebrate their shared heritage at their annual music and movement festival. But the fest isn’t just for people of Gullah/Geechee heritage — it’s for all of Charleston, visitors and locals alike, to learn more about the people who first came to the Lowcountry hundreds of years ago as human property.
The Gullah/Geechee people have been influencing Charleston culture and cuisine for as long as the port city has existed. Heck, we even dedicated an entire issue of Dish to Gullah/Geechee cuisine, tracing some of the city’s restaurant dishes back to their West African roots. That same West African heritage is celebrated every year at the Music and Movement festival’s libation ceremony, an annual tradition held at Gadsden’s Wharf that honors the lives of the Gullah/Geechee Nation’s ancestors, most of whom came to Charleston as slaves so many years ago.
Queen Quet, Chieftess and Head-of-State of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, says that Charleston is the ideal setting for a celebration of the Gullah/Geechee people. “Our ancestors came as chattel and out of that arose such a determined people.”
The Music and Movement festival always has a particular theme; this year’s is self-dertermination. “The Gullah/Geechee nation came into existence in 2000 because of the human right to self-determination,” says Queen Quet. “Self-determination is about making sure that our human rights are not violated.”
She describes the festival’s hands-on approach, “You learn from people who live the culture. People are presenting to you and everything is interactive.” The Gullah/Geechee people live along the East Coast, in communities from Cape Fear, N.C. to Jacksonville, Fla. Queen Quet says that Charleston’s annual festival aims to reconnect the African diaspora, and that in years past people have traveled all the way from Africa to take part in the celebrations.
So why should you check out this cultural shindig? Well, you can get a firsthand look at what Queen Quet calls “educainment,” a Gullah/Geechee form of entertainment that informs participants. You can also garner a better understanding of the city you live in — if you’ve ever purchased a sweetgrass basket, taken a tour of a historic Charleston home, or slurped down conch stew with a side of okra and rice, then you’ve participated in Gullah/Geechee culture. And it’s not hard to access either, with events like a film screening and reunion day, both of which are open to the public.
Below, we’ve highlighted some of the weekend’s events, so you can make the most of the Music and Movement festival. Read on.
Party With a Purpose, screening of Wilmington on Fire
Fri. Aug. 5
Scott’s Grand Banquet Hall
5060 Dorchester Road #320
The Music and Movement festival kicks off with a party featuring tunes from DJ Kwame Sha, Gullah/Geechee cuisine from Chef BJ Dennis, and a screening of the documentary, Wilmington on Fire. The film, directed by Christopher Everett, explores the Wilmington Massacre of 1898.
In 1898 the city of Wilmington, NC was almost two-thirds black. That same year Democrats vowed revenge against the white populists and black Republicans, who at the time, had political control of the state. The 1898 election saw stuffed ballot boxes and a win for Democrats, who took things one step further by gathering in a mob and physically removing black officeholders and killing as many as 25 people.
While tragic, the most notable aspect of the event is the fact that it was absent from most historical records until very recently, when the North Carolina General Assembly published a report on it in 2006. Everett discusses the massacre and its long hidden history in Wilmington on Fire. Check out clips on Vimeo by searching for Wilmington on Fire.
Gullah/Geechee Reunion Day
Sat. Aug. 6
Charleston Maritime Center
10 Wharfside Drive
While Queen Quet enjoys all aspects of the Music and Movement festival, she has a soft spot for Gullah/Geechee reunion day. “There has not been a year that we haven’t connected someone with someone they’ve never met,” says Queen Quet, adding that the reuniting of long lost family members often leads to spontaneous dancing. “It’s not called a movement festival for you to sit down and look at us,” she says. “It was Gullah/Geechee Go before Pokemon Go.”
In addition to dancing and reunions, Saturday is chock-full of music and visual arts. Queen Quet says that everyone should bring water, tambourines, drums, and an open spirit to make the most of the day.
In the Maritime Center, guests are encouraged to peruse the living market — as Queen Quet explains it, the makers of the food and crafts will be on hand to talk about their products in person — starting from the bottom floor and moving to the top. There guests can check out works from featured visual artists like Amiri Farris, whose vividly colorful paintings often evoke scenes of Gullah/Geechee culture. Farris is a contemporary artist whose work includes paiting, drawing, video, performance, and installation. He is currently a professor at the Savannah College of Art and Design and his work has been shown in prestigious spots like the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. He will reveal a specially designed festival poster on Saturday.
Additional artists include Quanza Washington, Akua Page, and sweetgrass basket makers Gregory Grant and Anastatia Ketchens. “Gregory Grant is a sweetgrass artist from Georgia, and he will show the similarities and nuances in sweet grass basketry as you travel down the coastline,” says Queen Quet.
In addition to visual arts, there will be drumming from The Sounds of RBM and Wona Womalan, spirituals from Queen Quet and De Gullah Cunneckshun, and R&B tunes from recording artist and Beaufort native GwenYvette.