Odunde, one of the year’s most anticipated festivals, was postponed for two years due to the pandemic, but the gathering of folklore and community is back this year.
Founded in 1975 by Lois Fernandez, the festival draws approximately 500,000 people from all over the area to South Street. The festival may be the biggest thing that the organization is known for but they do so much more.
“Odunde is more than just a festival. It’s Odunde 365 that includes African and African American cultural programs, in schools, community centers and public venues,” something that many aren’t aware of according to CEO Oshunbumi “Bumi” Fernandez-West.
The festival encompasses a 15-block radius and features over 100 arts and craft and food vendors. It also features two stages for live entertainment.
The vendors list includes people selling African art and artifacts such as masks, sculptures, and clothing.
In the words of Fernandez-West “We bring the continent to America.”
While the festival is the biggest draw, the celebrations begin on June 8 with the Odunde365- After Work Poetry Slam. Other events include the African Head wrapping and Food soiree, the African Business Roundtable and VIP reception, as well as Brunch with Bumi and a Caribbean Roundtable.
Fernandez-West shared what makes Odunde so special.
“Odunde is a sense of community, a sense of love, enjoyment of the clothes, ambiance and the food,” she said.
Fernandez-West is proud of the variety of vendors who will be present.
“We have over 100 vendors so mostly everyone is new.” She added “they range from artisans, clothing, and food covering the Black diaspora.”
The upside of having such an array of vendors is that there is something for everyone.
Odunde has a special place in the hearts of Philadelphians and visitors to the city. She explained “We remind people that we come from a lineage of Kings and Queens. I am hoping with all the violence happening in the city that when you come to the festival that you feel a sense of love.”
The other great component to the Odunde organization is that the leadership is mostly female.
“I think that’s all god. I’m Lois Fernandez’s daughter. I thank God every second for allowing me to be her daughter. Odunde is God’s will and that’s what keeps me focused. God just chose my mom and I to be the vessels,”were her sentiments.
While the festival attracts elements of a good time it’s also a great economic boom to the city and the state. Fernandez-West disclosed the magnitude of the impact in numbers.
“Odunde is an economic driver in Philadelphia. Odunde brings revenue to the city. Odudne has a $28 million impact on the city and a $30 million dollar impact on the state of Pennsylvania. No other type of festival has that type of economic impact. We feed families. We feed these businesses, including all the businesses on the auxiliary from Broad Street on.”
One of the vendors returning to the festival is Casey Arts and Framing, LLC out of Virginia.
Owner Hamilton Peoples shared what has been bringing him to Odunde all these years.
“My father started attending Odunde about 29 years ago. My relationship began as a child. He started the bridge between me and Odunde,” he shared.
The thing that keeps him coming back is “that Odunde has created one of the best African American Festivals in the United States. Not just in attendance but what it stands for. Most of the time when I’m at Odunde, I see everyone with smiles.”
He added that on the business end, like Bumi acknowledges in the economic impact “If I had to count, and I am being modest, there is well over a million dollars being made. Bumi also made sure we had our previous location”
These personal touches are what keep vendors returning to the festival. Odunde is an African heritage celebration. It’s an opportunity for Black people to come together and celebrate one another in a positive environment but everyone is welcome.
For all information on the festival as well as the organization, visit odundefestival.org