Etienne Cakpo, director of Seattle-based Gansango Dance & Music company, performs during the annual Bideww Arts Exhibition and Talent Show hosted by Washington West African Center in December at Neema Community Church in Everett. (Ousman Jarju / Washington West Africa Center)

Etienne Cakpo, director of Seattle-based Gansango Dance & Music company, performs during the annual Bideww Arts Exhibition and Talent Show hosted by Washington West African Center in December at Neema Community Church in Everett. (Ousman Jarju / Washington West Africa Center)

Experience African music, culture and cuisine in Everett

The inaugural Sounds of Africa festival will be held Aug. 4-5 at Everett Community College. Admission is free.

EVERETT — A nonstop flight from Seattle to Africa will take close to 20 hours and cost thousands. But life on the continent can be experienced for free this weekend in Everett.

The first-ever Sounds of Africa festival offers workshops on traditional African musical instruments and dance. There will also be live music, a fashion show and vendors selling African food.

Activities will be held from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Aug. 4-5 at Everett Community College, 2000 Tower St. in Everett. Friday workshops will be held at the Henry M. Jackson Conference Center. Saturday performances and vendors can be found at the Walt Price Student Fitness Center.

“In a nutshell, we are bringing Africa to Snohomish County,” said Pa Ousman Joof, executive director of the Washington West African Center. The Lynnwood-based nonprofit organizes events and programs in support of the West African community, but Joof said this festival will be the center’s first event aimed at non-Africans.

Joof has wanted to put on an event like this for years. He originally planned it for 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that. It’s finally coming to fruition this weekend with the goal of fostering diversity, promoting coexistence and facilitating cultural exchange.

“As a people, we can’t wait to just share with everyone,” Joof said, “for us to just celebrate humanity, celebrate Africa, celebrate everybody.”

Friday workshops are first come, first served, and limited to 75 people. Joof encourages people to sign up beforehand to reserve their spot at wawac.org/sounds-of-africa-festival-schedule/.

Joof is planning for 2,500 people to attend over the weekend.

As for event highlights: “Since this is the first one, I believe everything is going to be a highlight,” said Ousman Jarju, the center’s media director. “I’m looking forward to seeing the interactions that are going to happen amongst just ordinary people coming together and meeting for the first time.”

In terms of special guests, the Kouyate Twins will be there to host a dance workshop at 5 p.m. Friday, then perform at 7 p.m. Saturday. Brothers Ousseynou and Lassana “Assane” Kouyate hail from Senegal and come from a long line of griots, a combination of historian, storyteller, poet and musician. The duo have performed professionally since age 13 and were lead dancers and choreographers with Le Ballet National du Senegal and the Sinomew Ballet of Senegal, according to Alliance for California Traditional Arts.

The Seattle-based Gansango Music & Dance company hosts a drum and dance workshop at 5 p.m. Friday before performing live at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Gambian singer Pa Bobo Jobareth hosts a workshop at 11 a.m. Friday on how to play the kora, a type of stringed West African instrument that’s a cross between a lute and harp. He’ll also perform at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.

Pa Omar Jack and The Jeff Jell Band perform at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Jack is a Lake Stevens vocalist originally from The Gambia who has been in the music business for nearly two decades. He has released several albums, and his music videos can be seen on YouTube.

Jack describes his sound as traditional African music with a fusion of sweet funk and Afrobeat. At the festival, he plans to sing in his native language, Wolof, along with English, so audiences can sing along.

“I will play nice Afrofusion music,” Jack said. “Everybody will love it.”

A fashion show showcasing traditional African clothing is set for 12:15 p.m. Saturday. And African food will be offered from vendors that include Dijah’s Kitchen and Bantaba African Restaurant, both from Lynnwood.

If you can’t make it this weekend, don’t fret — Joof plans to make the festival an annual affair. However, this first will be special, he said.

“We encourage people to come,” Joof said. “Whoever attends this, you will be part of the history of the Sounds of Africa festival, because it’s here to stay.”

For more information, call 253-235-2132 or email info@wawac.org.

Eric Schucht: 425-339-3477; eric.schucht@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @EricSchucht.

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