I’m told Umoja Fest has been a reoccurring event for 30+ years in Seattle’s Central District, but somehow I hadn’t heard about it until this year.
Umoja = Unity, and this is exactly what this festival is about. Located in the heart of the CD along 23rd ave (Between Jackson & Judson) in Seattle, this weekend saw the ave lined with people sitting in lawn chairs and on blankets awaiting the annual Parade. You saw parents strapping elbow pads on their 7 year olds, and filming as their kids whizzed around the skatepark at Judkins Park. You saw hundreds of people filing in to watch young men playing hoop on the tandem bball courts. With multiple music stages and food trucks, people wandered through the festival with their families and absorbed their surroundings. I noticed a few people sitting around the outskirts of the park, just enjoying the sun, people watching, and the rare opportunity to relax and do nothing for a while.
The main reason I was attending the festival, is a few of my good friends had been invited to perform on Umoja Fest’s’ Hip Hop stage, so I went out to show support (and seize the opportunity to hand out flyers, and shoot some music video footage as well.)
When I arrived I found the Hip Hop stage, which had been setup in a fenced area that looked like it would have been used as tennis courts if not otherwise occupied; located just past the hoop courts. Fresh looking graffiti on the wall on my left read “Free Palestine” along with some famous quotes from the likes of Albert Einstein and an ex President regarding War, Peace and civilian casualties.
Welcomed by the host; Veteran Hip Hop Poet/ Writer Josh Rizeberg of Tacoma, we gathered in front of the stage to hear the opening act (and i apologize at the moment I can only recall his name was Gregory) speak about Peace and Freedom, freeing Palestine, ending corrupt wars and occupations, and Power to the People.. Only briefly summarizing his complex political messages.
The next act, Skrilla, is a well known Hip Hop artist/ promoter from Tacoma who brought with him his young twin sons for their first ever opportunity to watch their father perform. His strong rhymes and catchy choruses echoed the message of the Struggle, life’s ups & downs, and maintaining a positive outlook throughout life’s hardships. After he thanked the crowd and went to relax with his family under protection of the shade, Rizeberg took to the Mic to introduce the next act; Influential Minds.
Accompanied by a guest performer, a young lady who sounded amazing as she sang live (and did not hide behind pre recorded vocals), IM did their thing under the blazing sun and the shadow of the Blue Angel Jets flying over head; from the ever popular Seattle Seafair event which was taking place at nearby Lake Washington.
Next up was my good friend and label mate, Thunderchief, accompanied by 5ive 3re; who joined in to perform their song “Up Late”. Thunderchief, who can at times be a bit “wild” or “unconventional”; Delivered a more mature and positive message for the festival goers. With slow, serious instrumentals and clearly spoken lyrics, he spoke to the soul of the people. He even performed a well executed song which (he openly admits to the crowd), was completely freestyled and recorded “in his mommas shed”. When his time was up, he told the crowd he loved them all, thanked them for their undivided attention – then descended the stage in search of water on this still muggy Saturday afternoon.
Veteran Tacoma Rapper, Awall aka 2piece was next to take the stage. Sporting a camo bucket hat that matched his shorts, a Squashington Music Tee, and Seahawk colored Ken Griffey’s, he proceeded to rock the crowd in his typical impressive fashion. Speaking about positivity in the face of hardships similar to the others before him, he danced and entertained the crowd while the chorus sang “I am fearless, and I’m coming’ for that #1 spot”. After a few songs he was joined by the host of the stage, and standing alongside Josh Rizeberg, performed the last song of his set; speaking about everything from old school hip hop and how it inspired them, to political corruption, while delivering the uplifting “Power To The People” message that Rizeberg is known to live by (as well as stand up and fight for.)
The last act I saw perform was a Seattle artist known as The Sav, who was enjoying the buzz from his newly released album, handfuls of CDs at his side.
Then we slowly made our way out of the Hip Hop stage area, stopping to hand out flyers and chat with people, watch the kids getting down in the Skatepark, and relax in the grass for a bit before we headed home to BBQ and enjoy the (rare) Northwest sunshine. As I was walking to the truck people were still pouring into the park, seemingly centered around the basketball tournament still underway.
Overall it was an excellent event to be apart of, the entire area riding the good vibes of unity, neighbors bonding through similar interests and a sense of community. I left the festival with a positive feeling about our Northwest Hip Hop community, and our society in general. I will be a much more informed Umoja Festival attendee when i go next year.
– Greg Double, Blue Nose/ Fahrenheit Records