More than just a day

Celebrating 45 years of the Philadelphia ODUNDE Festival

3 minute read
A dance group in dashiki dresses perform with musicians behind them on an outdoor stage on a sunny day.
The ODUNDE Festival is rich with music, food, dance, and more, honoring the African diaspora. (Photo courtesy of ODUNDE Festival.)

For Oshunbumi “Bumi” Fernandez-West, CEO of ODUNDE, Inc, “ODUNDE is like my little sister. My mom gave birth to ODUNDE in 1975; I was strapped to her back. I carry my mother’s legacy on my back now. I carry it with a lot of pride and humbleness.” In addition to being a Philadelphia staple for nearly five decades, the ODUNDE Festival is the largest African American street festival in the country. What started off as the vision of Fernandez-West’s mother Lois Fernandez, her friend Ruth Arthur, and a $100 grant has grown into an internationally recognized celebration of the African diaspora attracting upward of half a million attendees a year.

International origins, local growth

The late Lois Fernandez was inspired by a 1972 trip to Nigeria where she witnessed the Oshun Festival of the Yoruba people. It moved the then social worker so profoundly that she wanted to share this cultural practice with her South Philly community. The ODUNDE Festival celebrates the coming of another year for African Americans and the people of the African diaspora around the world. In fact, the word ODUNDE means "Happy New Year!" in the Yoruba language. Fernandez-West has been carrying this legacy since Lois Fernandez’s passing in 2018.

This year, the procession that marks the start of the festival will begin at noon. Participants are invited to gather at 23rd and South Street and then travel a joyous path toward the Schuylkill River where they will give offerings of fruit and flowers to Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of the river. Afterward, they will disperse into the festival proper featuring an authentic African marketplace with vendors from around the world selling merchandise from African nations, the Caribbean, and Brazil. ODUNDE covers 15 city blocks, has over 100 arts and craft and food vendors, and has two stages of live entertainment. This year’s headliner, hip-hop pioneer Doug E. Fresh, will be returning to ODUNDE’s stage after a tremendously well-received appearance at the last in-person celebration in 2019.

ODUNDE is bigger than one day

In October 2011, Fernandez-West created ODUNDE365 to provide year-round African and African American cultural programming to schools, community centers, and public venues. These programs range from African dance and drumming to yoga to entrepreneurship classes.

We’re at different schools,” Fernandez-West says. “We have a wonderful partnership with Universal Schools. We’ve been at those schools for about seven or eight years.” Additionally, there are smaller citywide events that take place starting on Wednesday, June 8 and continue as a run-up to the big festival. These events include a breakfast honoring ODUNDE founder Lois Fernandez, business roundtables, and a head wrapping workshop.

As one might imagine, the ODUNDE Festival provides a significant boon to the local economy. “The great thing about ODUNDE is we spotlight and have been supporting African and African American-owned businesses for 47 years. ODUNDE has a $28 million impact on the city of Philadelphia and a $30 million impact on the state of Pennsylvania in a 10-hour period. No other festival has that kind of economic impact, so if anyone ever says, ‘Oh, they’re just people getting together,’ no, we make it rain.”

Fernandez-West is always surprised by how much ODUNDE continues to grow. “ODUNDE is a whole vibe. It’s an energy. It’s for all generations. No matter what your demographic is, no matter what your ethnic background is. ODUNDE is for you. The key thing I want people to know is that Odunde is God. My mom and I are just the vessels. So as long as I stay steadfast on that, I know ODUNDE will continue to be here through God’s grace. We’re excited to be back.”

What, When, Where

ODUNDE Festival. Through June 12, 2022; at various locations June 8-11, and at 23rd Street and South Street, Philadelphia on Sunday, June 12.

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