The twentieth century saw an unprecedented, worldwide acceleration of social change. Often, such rapid evolution outpaced time-honored values and practices, eroding their currency, overwhelming cultural self-determination and displacing the local with the foreign. In a time-span as short as a single generation, entire languages, musical traditions, and other expressive cultural systems were abandoned in favor of cultural trappings invented by others. The 43rd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 2009 told another version of this story, inviting visitors to explore the process of cultural evolution from the other side of the equation. Festival audiences were able to experience the creativity, resilience, and fortitude of people, institutions, and cultures that follow their own path amid a torrent of contrarian voices.
Wales Smithsonian Cymru provided a forum for discovering how the Welsh people successfully integrate both the tradition and the change that are part of their cultural heritage. On the one hand, about onefifth of the country’s three million inhabitants speak Welsh (Cymru is the Welsh word for Wales). And the people of Wales still work to preserve the rustic rural landscapes that have long informed their sense of self. On the other hand, the Welsh can lay claim to the nineteenth-century mantle of being “the first industrialized nation,” and they take pride in their ongoing innovative spirit. How have the Welsh managed to navigate the turbulent waters of continuity and change to shepherd an economically and culturally sustainable society into the future? The Festival offered visitors the chance to find out firsthand from this “living exhibition” of Welsh heritage.
Giving Voice: The Power of Words in African American Culture presented living testimony to the resilience and imagination of a people. Out of three centuries of subjugation came a distinctive and separate Black world, a source of refuge and endurance in the face of cruel and wrenching societal decimation. Tapping the power and the play of African American oral traditions and verbal arts, the program “gave voice” to this poignant, powerful, and quintessentially American story of cultural transcendence. Organized in partnership with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Giving Voice explored the realm of African American cultural creation via verbal expression, considering it as both a means of social resistance and a major contributor to contemporary American life. Festival visitors could listen and be moved by compelling stories about the history, struggles, and creativity of African Americans, told through six tracks of programming: storytelling, oral poetry, interpretive drama, children’s and youth culture, humor, and radio.
Las Américas: Un mundo musical /The Americas: A Musical World showed how the seemingly monolithic term música latina refers in reality to an inviting rainbow of musical sounds, styles, and traditions. The program also supplied vivid proof that music can amount to much more than just music. Each tradition represented in Las Américas is a musical flag of identity, a beacon that unites cultural communities, and a means of cultural self-actualization. This Festival program, the result of eight years of research and documentation, was the fourth and final in a series dedicated to exploring Latino music as a window into the cultures that give it meaning. The overarching project, entitled Nuestra Música: Music in Latino Culture, began with the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings series Tradiciones/Traditions. The series produced thirty recordings that had, as of the 2009 Festival, earned eight GRAMMY nominations, one GRAMMY, and one Latin GRAMMY. Additionally, the project included Música del Pueblo: A Smithsonian Virtual Exhibition ( musicadelpueblo.org), that featured dozens of video mini-documentaries of grassroots Latino musicians from the United States, Puerto Rico, and several Latin American countries.
The 2009 Festival took place for two five-day weeks (June 24-28 and July 1-5) between Madison Drive and Jefferson Drive and between 9th Street and 14th Street, south of the National Museum of American History and the National Museum of Natural History. It featured three programs and the Rinzler Concert.