For the 2003 Festival, tradition-bearers from Mali, Scotland, and Appalachia gathered on the Mall, in what might at first have appeared to be a puzzling juxtaposition. A visit to the Festival quickly revealed all sorts of cultural connections and relationships among them.
Consider "old-time" and bluegrass music from Appalachia. Although often viewed as quintessentially American, many of our American ballads came from Scotland, carried by settlers in the late 1700s. And the banjo, vital to both traditions, came from West Africa, from lands traditionally part of the Malian empire. The instrument was crafted and re-crafted by African Americans and became a central part of our musical heritage. In bluegrass bands you can hear a unique American story, the melding together of an African and European heritage.
The connections do not stop in America. Scots back home, reflecting upon their emigrant experience, invented dances and called one "America." Malian balladeers, strumming their lutes and singing of their brethren, incorporated the enslavement experience into their repertoire of historical tales. Cultural connections go well beyond home. The bluegrass band from East Tennessee State University includes students from around the world and performs for fans in Japan. Pipe bands play Scottish music all over the world - from official functions in Bermuda to weddings in India.
All three cultures preserve their history in song. Griots and story-singers in Mali have safeguarded the history of the place and the genealogy of its leaders for centuries; in Scotland and Appalachia, ballads and other narrative song styles have served a similar purpose. Major issues and events still inspire artists in all three cultures today. At the Festival, Carl Rutherford from Warriormine, West Virginia, Dorothy Myles of Appalachia, Virginia, and Brian McNeill of Falkirk, Scotland, all performed songs they wrote about coal mining and its economic, social, and health impacts. In unforgettable songs Oumou Sangaré of Bamako, Mali, and Karine Polwart of Scotland drew visitors' attention to the concerns of women in contemporary life. Adam McNaughtan performed his memorable songs about life in contemporary Glasgow. At the Festival these artists not only performed, they also discussed the role of song in the conscience of a people.
Appalachian flatfoot dancing, as performed brilliantly at the Festival by John Dee Holeman, has been linked by scholars to both British clogging and West African dance. Cooks in Mali and Appalachia foodways demonstrations made stewed chicken dishes and used okra and beans. Cooks from both Scotland and Appalachia demonstrated their recipes for meat pies and strawberry jams.
Americans trace their heritage to many sources, but none more strongly than the British Isles and West Africa. Many of the settlers who came to Appalachia were of Scottish and Scots-Irish descent, and many of the enslaved people who were captured and brought here against their will were from the area around Mali. The culture they brought with them enriches our lives in forms new and old. This Festival gave visitors the opportunity to recognize the artistic excellence in all three cultures.
The 2003 Festival took place during two five-day weeks (June 25-29 and July 2-6) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 9th Street and 13th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History.