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What's 'Florida Culture'? Folk Fest To Include Hip Hop, Graffiti Art, Chinese Music

Jessica Palombo

The annual Florida Folk Festival kicks off in North Florida at 6 p.m. this Friday. The three-day cultural celebration is bringing together hip-hop and graffiti artists with traditional Chinese musicians and many other performers this year.

The state-sponsored festival is a celebration of the culture and traditions unique to Florida. All weekend, people will be able to take in traditional musical performances at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs, near the intersection of I-10 and I-75.

One area of the fest, the Folklife stage, is what State Folklorist Blaine Waide, calls, the “soul” of the festival.

“What really makes our stage different and unique is it’s a reflection of the current cultural makeup of the state,” he said.

Waide travels throughout Florida, curating so-called “living traditions.” This year’s folklife performers and demonstrators all come from the Northeast Florida region. They include Jacksonville hip hop artists, DJ Paten Locke and MC Mal Jones.

“Hip hop is an example. It’s one of the most thoroughly traditional African American forms, with deep roots in oral tradition,” he said. “So, trying to identify those cultural continuities and presenting those to a public audience helps people realize the deep cultural rootedness of a lot of our traditional expressive culture.”

The folklife area will also feature a Jacksonville graffiti artist, or “writer,” as he prefers to be called, named Kes. He’ll be decorating a temporary wall all weekend. The two acts will appear alongside an artist who makes Venezuelan nativity scenes and fishermen who make their own hoop nets.

“What makes you feel Cuban if you’re Cuban? Or what makes you feel Bahamian if you’re Bahamian? And typically those things are what fall under the umbrella of folklore,” Waide said.

He said, the state wants to preserve all of the diverse cultures that make up Florida. Another way of doing that is sponsoring master artists to pass their crafts down to apprentices. And three teams of masters and apprentices will also be presenting their work at the festival. One of the apprentices is incoming high school senior Crystal Zhang, from Tallahassee.

“I am kind of nervous because I feel like there’s gonna be a lot of people there,” she said.

Zhang has been studying under world-renowned Chinese musician Haiqiong Deng, a professor at Florida State University. They’ll be playing a harp-like instrument called a zheng, which Deng said, is the most popular instrument in China.

“It’s very easy to start,” she said. “Even when you just graze the strings, it sounds already beautiful. So, many people love it.”

Deng, who came ten years ago from China to study at FSU, said, at first, she was surprised there was a state program supporting the continuation of her cultural traditions.

“I’m very glad that I became part of it. And I feel that Florida became really my home. You know, I feel that connection,” she said.

The Florida Folk Festival will also feature music and dance performances native to the state.

It’s running from 6 p.m. on Friday evening until 10 p.m. on Sunday and opens Saturday and Sunday at 8 a.m. Visit the state parks website for more information on attending.