Sound and fury, signifying much

Africa shares its wisdom at the 13th Annual Black Storytelling Festival

Greg Corradini

The rapper Nas once boasted that he was “Langston Hughes’ predecessor.”

He wasn’t being literal.

The hip-hop MC was acknowledging the oral tradition of storytelling that pervades black culture.

From hip-hop to spirituals, the cultural importance of storytellers extends all the way back to the epic tales of North African dynasties. At the height of Mali’s empire, storytellers were considered prophets and historians.

The Black Storytellers Alliance brings together six masters of the tradition in its 13th Annual Black Storytelling Festival.

The power of persuasion will last for three days, during which an array of fables, animal stories and parables will help act as a testament to black cultural traditions.

There’s also a good chance that many black thinkers and pioneers, such as Nat Turner or Harriet Tubman, will have their stories retold.

“I just pick a person from an era that speaks to me, and I will tell that story,” said Nothando Zulu, a storyteller and director of the Black Storytellers Alliance.

Zulu said many of her stories might come from a certain era, such as the 1920s.

“I do a lot of reading, and there are several sources that I like to use. One in particular is Langston Hughes’ ‘Thank You Ma’m.’ “

She said the story reminds her of a time when the community was much more involved with the youth.

Maybe Kala JoJo, another of the event’s storytellers, could raise community involvement if he told Mali’s epic tale of its greatest warrior and king, “Sundiata.” The storyteller is known for his rendition of the epic, and has been known to perform his version regularly.

If not, then the audience will listen to the other stories presented in the festival that are as powerful, if not more powerful, than the written word.