PEACE DALE — South African anti-apartheid activist, storyteller, poet, playwright and author Nokugcina Elsie Mhlophe will headline this year's 22nd Annual FUNDA FEST, a celebration of Black Storytelling to be held from Saturday Jan. 26 through Sunday, Feb. 2 at various locations around the state. On Jan. 25, Mhlophe, who has used her one-woman performances to help preserve traditional storytelling in South Africa, will perform at Music 'n' More at Lily Pads in Peace Dale. Mhlophe's daughter, Khwezi Becker, who has followed in her mother's footsteps, as a storyteller, poet and playwright, will join her mother along with trans, non-binary poet Gentle Ramirez and Providence-based storytellers Valerie Tutson and Rochel Coleman.

This will mark the third year that Music 'n' More at Lily Pads will collaborate with the Rhode Island Black Storytellers to present one of the events of the Providence-based FUNDA FEST. For an entire week, adults and children are invited to experience some of the best cultural arts programming across Rhode Island at venues that include schools, K-12, community and cultural arts centers, libraries, and theaters. Each year, storytellers from around the world team up to teach and entertain with stories from the African diaspora. This year's FUNDA FEST highlights connections with South Africa.  

Mhlophe, who was born in 1959, is well known throughout South Africa for her roles as a freedom fighter, and artist and for encouraging children to read. Storytelling is a deeply traditional activity in Africa, and Gcina is one of the few women storytellers in a realm largely dominated by males. While working to preserve storytelling and keep history alive, Mhlophe delivers her stories in four of South Africa’s languages, English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa, thus making it possible for South Africa’s people to receive her stories in a language that can be understood by a majority of citizens.

Becker, who has performed her poetry and written pieces for production such as Kristi Gresse’s Sullied which won the Gold Ovation Award at the National Arts Festival in South Africa in 2018 and recently taken her latest project, When Coasts Meet, a one-woman-play that she co-wrote and produced with Nomcebisi Moyikwa to the National Arts Festival 2019 and returned with an Ovation Award.

Ramirez is a New Jersey "Poetry Out Loud" finalist from the Bronx whose work centers poetry to revolutionize concepts surrounding race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, class, ability, citizenship, universal forces. Their work has been seen on stage at the Nuyorican Café and in print.

Additional artists include RIBS tellers Len Cabral, Ramona Bass Kolobe, Raffini, Rochel Garner Coleman, Marlon Carey, Valerie Tutson and, returning artists Teju Ologboni from Milwaukee, Nisha “Rugrat” Otuonye, and Linda and Sumner McClain.

Special events for children and families include the Lily Pads event, storytelling at the North Kingstown Free Library, a program at the Newport Art Museum as well as a Free Family FUN Day at the Southside Cultural Center of RI in Providence on Sat Feb. 1. In past years, The Westerly Library hosted FUNDA FEST events, but scheduling conflicts didn't allow for that to happen this year. Bethany Kearsch, program coordinator for Westerly Library and Wilcox Park, said the library is hoping FUNDA FEST will return next year.

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