- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 25, 2009

Under a hot sun, hundreds of artists and visitors Wednesday weaved through venues featuring everything from barbershop stories to clog-making for the opening of the 43rd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall.

Others stood in line for a taste of cawl, a Welsh stew and a bite of Southern-style peach cobbler, or were lured to a dance floor by the lush rhythms of a Colombian currulao band.

This year’s festival celebrates black oral traditions, the industrial past and new technologies of Wales and the diversity of Latino music. The free event runs Wednesday through Sunday, takes a break and then opens for its second leg July 1 through July 5. Officials expect a million people to attend.

As Smithsonian Institution Secretary Wayne Clough walked through a Welsh exhibit Wednesday, he acknowledged that the festival’s featured cultures may seem to have little in common, but he said when he looked around he realized that all three represent “groups that have had some oppression in the past, and have used their culture to maintain their humanity, their dignity and the continuity of the generation.”

“I would like for folks to think that each of these cultures are part of the thread that makes up the fabric of our country,” Mr. Clough said.

Across the way, in the “Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture” area of the festival, storyteller Victoria Burnett of California told an audience about being one of the only black girls at her childhood school, and realizing how lucky she was to be spared from a breakout of head lice. That’s because it’s tough, she said, for lice to attach to kinky hair. And that’s when she learned to love her locks.

“Doesn’t matter what color or style or poof,” Miss Burnett sang, “there’s power in the kinky hair!”

The festival’s feature on black oral tradition includes storytelling, poetry and humor, and is sponsored by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, slated to open on the Mall in 2015.

The “Wales Smithsonian Cymru” is the largest festival feature, with demonstrations, narrative sessions and musical performances that aim to show the connections between Welsh culture and sustainable practices. One of the venues, for instance, is a small timber-framed house that shows how lime mortars, sheep’s wool insulation and slate roofing are used in construction.

On Wednesday, families picnicked under trees among some of the many Wales-inspired venues, including a Welsh storytelling circle and exhibits on basketry, bookbinding and woodworking.

Greenbelt resident Mary Halford had recently arrived at the festival with her husband and mother-in-law as she strolled by the woodwork area. She’s has been attending for 30 years, she said. “The plan was to look around and go find the music, because that’s what we come for.”

Lauren Boyd and Tony Lucas of the District made a beeline for the tent where the Cantadoras del Pacifico were weaving a mix of marimba, drums and song. Called currulao, the traditional music from the Colombian Pacific Coast reflects Africa’s influence in Latin America.

“Every year we come, and it’s usually for the music,” said Mrs. Boyd, after she and her husband scanned the musical lineup for the day.

The “Las Americas: Un mundo musical/The Americas: A Musical World” program at the festival explores Latino rhythms from countries that include Venezuela, Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, as well as the U.S.

Officials said most of the artists are from a series of recordings published by Smithsonian Folkways, which started in 2002.

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