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Folklife Festival Takes Visitors to the Ancient Country of Wales

Also: The 2009 festival explores the power of words in African-American culture and celebrates Latin American music. Transcript of radio broadcast:


Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson.

On today's program, we explore the power of words in African-American culture …

Move to the many rhythms of Latin American music …

And experience Wales and its people, all in on the National Mall in Washington. Welcome back to the yearly Smithsonian Folklife Festival!



For forty-three years, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival has been bringing cultures from the United States and from around the world to Washington, D.C. Visitors to this year's outdoor festival can explore the music, history, art and food of Wales. This small country in the United Kingdom is known for its music, sports, beautiful natural areas and ancient history. Visitors to the festival can also learn about the country's language and industry. Shirley Griffith has more.


Visitors to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival can start their exploration of Wales by learning about its native language, Welsh. Welsh is one of the oldest languages in the world. The first lesson to learn is the Welsh word for Wales: Cymru.

Festival visitors can learn more from Iona Hughes, a Welsh teacher in the country's capital, Cardiff. Welsh and English are now the official languages of Wales. But the English people did not always support the use of Welsh. Today, about twenty percent of the population of Wales speaks the language fluently.

IONA HUGHES: "It's quite wonderful to see how the language has developed and how the language has grown especially in the last thirty years. I remember as a child actually saying that Welsh was a dying language, and now I'm proud to say that actually it isn't, it's a thriving language."

The Welsh people are serious about language and the spoken word. They hold competitions to celebrate their language in literature and music. At the Smithsonian festival, there is an area for story tellers to perform. Here, a writer reads a poem he wrote in Welsh about his grandfather.


Wales is also known for its natural beauty. It has hundreds of lakes and over one thousand kilometers of coastline. The government and organizations work hard to protect this environment.

The festival events also tell about Welsh industries. You can see an expert make thread out of wool from a sheep. Or you might learn about traditional Welsh building materials like slate. There is also a stage where Welsh musicians perform.


And, no visit to Wales would be complete without a pub where people can sit down and drink a beer.

Joan Paull has been volunteering for the Smithsonian Folklife Festival for thirty-four years. We asked her what she likes about this event.

JOAN PAULL: "It gives me an opportunity to either visit states or countries that I either hadn't thought about or didn't realize what wonderful things they had to offer. And then once I have been there, it's just so exciting, and so I can hardly wait for the next year."

Mizz Paull says she has never been to Wales. But now that she has learned about this country, she wants to make a big effort to visit soon.


That is folk performer Ella Jenkins leading a sing-along of "Mary Had A Little Lamb." They are at the area of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival called Giving Voice. It explores the power of words and oral tradition in African-American culture. Performers include poets, story tellers, radio show announcers, actors and others. Ella Jenkins has been singing and teaching songs to children for more than fifty years.

She has reached children through her work in public schools, conferences, festivals, on television and in concerts. She recorded her first album in nineteen fifty-seven. Here Ella Jenkins sings and plays a game with visitors at the festival. The children love it.


John Franklin is director of Partnerships and International Programs at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History. Mister Franklin says Folklife director Diana Parker had the idea for Giving Voice. He says it was the right time for the exhibition. Mister Franklin says people want to know more about the African-American experience because of President Obama.

He says planners wanted to make sure to include all areas of spoken word. He said they had to have theater, poetry, comedy and oral expression linked to music and children's culture.

Mister Franklin praised the festival's barbershop and beauty shop settings. This is where African-American men and women have had their hair cut and styled. He says he remembers the barbershop of his childhood and the debates that took place there. He says it was a place where people discussed important issues and respected differences of opinion.

One place within "Giving Voice" where you will hear only whispers is called Hush Harbor. This quiet area was set up to represent places where African-American slaves would go to pray without being observed by their oppressors.

Visitors to the Folklife Festival can also hear poets like Sonia Sanchez from Washington, D.C., in an area called the Oratorium. Poet Toni Blackman also is performing at the festival. She is a State Department "Ambassador of Hip-Hop" from Brooklyn, New York. And African-American story tellers from around the United States have gathered to lend their talents to the festival.


Visitors to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival could also enter into "un mundo musical," a musical world, at the area of the festival called Las Americas. Here is Mario Ritter with more.


The musical artists are here to connect the different kinds of music that are an important part of Latino life and culture. They also are attending the festival to exchange ideas about their music.

Music in Latino culture is rich in tradition and poetry. The white tents of the festival are alive with exciting sounds. Visitors can hear the bomba and plena music traditions from Puerto Rico or the currulaofrom Colombia's Pacific coast.


Many forms of Latin American music, like the plena and son music represent the customs of the countries. Songs often go along with a dance. According to an expert on son music, a dance is like a proposal. Most importantly it is about the idea of being related to the earth.

SPEAKER: "With probably most traditions you have the music, the dance, the poetry, and it's often times a proposition, a proposal. For instance, you dance for rain, you dance for a good crop … they dance to have a relationship with the earth."

Visitors can enjoy listening to the sounds of Latin America while tasting traditional Central and South American cooking. There are foods such as yuca and arroz con pollo. Many foods are especially traditional of Peru. Cook Marco Campero describes some typical food:

MARCO CAMPERO: "Ceviche, it is Peruvian style cooked with lemonade…We have the carrapulcra. It is a dried potato, a yellow potato, it is dried with chicken and pork. This is from Lima. Lima, Peru, it is the capital. Chicken is very popular in Peru."

Not all traditional music from Central and South American remains local. In fact, some are international favorites. After a tasty meal, visitors and natives alike can enjoy music from the Mexican musical string groupSon de Madera. This is Spanish for "they are made from wood." Here is the well known song, "La Bamba."



I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.

It was written by Caty Weaver, Marisel Salazar and Dana Demange who was also the producer. For transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our programs, go to You can also write comments about our programs.

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