Silver Spring Ethiopian Festival displays cultural magnificence

COMMUNITY VOICE: ALIX NUNAN  •  PHOTOS: RACHEL HORESOVSKY

Traditional Ethiopian dance, music, food, and interactive activities transformed the downtown Silver Spring promenade on June 25, 2011. Scroll to the bottom to see a slideshow of this event.

I was lucky enough to volunteer at the First Annual Ethiopian Festival in Downtown Silver Spring. The festival, which showcased Ethiopian vendors, music, fashion and dancing, drew a crowd so large that the surrounding parking garages reached capacity and turned cars away.

At one point during the event, security, my fellow volunteers and I attempted to hold onto a path cleared through the crowd for a fashion runway. I was struck by the impossibility of the task at hand as some of the estimated 10,000 visitors pushed past us again and again, searching for a better view of the stage. None of us had anticipated this much success.

Just a few days earlier, we’d had our final volunteer meeting leading up to the event. Like most of the 25 volunteers, I was roped into the festival because of my friendship with volunteer coordinators Megan Moriarty and Sara Mussie, as well as event organizers Tebabu Assefa and Minew Shewa Entertainment. Together, the volunteer team created quite a mixed bag of ages, ethnicities and languages seated around the table, held together by mutual friends and excitement for the event.

Volunteer and Ethiopian immigrant Noelle Haile said, “This was a vision that Tebabu has had for a long time and it was exciting to see it materialize in the community.”

Children with face paint clap along to music in a crowd in Silver Spring.

Face-painted fans clap along to the DJs' African beats in Downtown Silver Spring.

Celebrating cultural magnificence

With the theme of the event, “Celebrating Cultural Magnificence,” the event organizers sought to honor cultural and economic engagement of Ethiopians in Silver Spring, promote local Ethiopian business to continue their economic development and raise awareness of Ethiopian culture in our larger community.

Saturday afternoon, mild panic set in as performers were stuck in traffic, models went missing, printed materials had not arrived, and program order had to be thrown out the window. Volunteer Mihret Yelma even ran up on stage and engaged a group of children in Ethiopian dancing to kill time.

The real surprise came when nobody at the festival seemed to notice these hiccups, and then suddenly and remarkably, everything started running smoothly. Performers appeared on stage, parking garages filled, and a crowd accumulated in Downtown Silver Spring. The celebration of cultural magnificence shone in the faces of the huge number of people gathered along Ellsworth Drive.

“The sense of community and the excitement of the people who attended the festival [stayed with me]. I couldn’t believe how packed it was, how people were excited about supporting their own culture or learning about others,” said event volunteer Ana Puentes.

“I was so impressed by the fact that there were so many people and so many families,” added Diann, a visitor and the lucky winner of the raffle, a round trip air ticket to Ethiopia. “It was an incredible event – a fitting recognition of all of the many contributions of the Ethiopian community to not only Silver Spring but the Washington Metropolitan area.”

Ethiopian-born talk show host and model Nunu Wako chats with kids onstage about why they love their culture.

Ethiopian-born talk show host and model Nunu Wako chats with kids onstage about why they love their culture.

Laughter fills the evening sky

For volunteer coordinator Megan Moriarty, the highlight of the night came when famous Ethiopian comedian Kebebew Geda made a special appearance, much to the crowd’s delight. “Everything was in Amharic and I have no idea what he was saying, but the sound of thousands of Ethiopians laughing at once was amazing,” Moriarty said. Geda was perhaps the most popular guest of the night, though all of the acts were well-received.

Other performers included Tesday Ethiopian Traditional Band, Afro-Ethiopian dancers Netsanet and Taye, first-generation Ethiopian hip-hop group Abyssinian Vibe, Amharic poem reading by Tsedi Moges, and contemporary Ethiopian headliners including Tedele Roba, Berhanu Tezera and Tedele Gemechu who traveled from Ethiopia and the Washington-based Desalgne Melku.

Fashion shows included 35 models from the Washington DC area and six models from the Wub Abyssinia Fashion Group in Ethiopia. The shows featured designs by Markos, Betelhem, Hewan and Arada Wear.

The festival was also broadcasted worldwide through satellite TV. “It was really exciting for me that my parents got to experience it in Ethiopia,” said Haile, who received an e call from her family after they saw the event on TV.

Miniabiyi, another volunteer, said, “I hope June 25 will remain a day when we come together every year to honor the global family.  I was especially happy to see people from all walks of life truly enjoying the celebration in the spirit it was intended.”

The organizing team hopes that because of this year’s success, next year’s festival will be even bigger and better. “I was delighted to see diverse people from the Greater Silver Spring come together to celebrate our diversity in the spirit of community,” added Mussie. “I look forward to having many more join us next year.”

Alix Nunan was a Ethiopian Festival volunteer.

To view the Ethiopian Festival Voice gallery, click here: http://voice.smugmug.com/Festivals/Silver-Spring-Ethiopian.

Or watch the following slideshow (if the slideshow doesn’t load below, please hit the link above.):

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About the Author

Rachel Horesovsky
Rachel was a summer 2011 photo intern at the Voice, heading into her senior year of photojournalism studies at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C. Someday she hopes to make a living documenting the plight of the marine ecosystem, but for now she is content to explore the many faces of the nation's capital, from stray cats to ambassadors. More of her work can be seen on her website, www.rachelhoresovsky.com.

2 Comments on "Silver Spring Ethiopian Festival displays cultural magnificence"

  1. Dear Voice & Rachel,

    I came from Ethiopia and I have been living in Silver Spring since 1991. Silver Spring, being my second home, offered me so much in so many ways.The Ethiopian festival helped me to revisit my presence in this multicultural and diverse socity. I am very happy the community recognizes my culture and celebrates the diversity in the context of the big picture; all cultures are part of our national identity!!
    Thank you for your time !!!
    God bless the U.S.

  2. Black is Beautiful!!

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