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The Essence Festival concludes a four-day celebration of black culture

By CHEVEL JOHNSON RODRIGUE – Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — For 30 years, the Essence Festival of Culture has brought people from all walks of life and from around the world together to connect through conversation, shared experiences and, of course, music.

The country’s largest annual celebration of black culture concluded Sunday with musical performances by Janet Jackson and a special tribute to Frankie Beverly & Maze, the soul band that closed the festival for its first 15 years. Beverly, now 77, has said he will retire from live performances, and the group is currently on a farewell tour.

Other performances included Victoria Monét, Teedra Moses, Tank and the Bangas, Dawn Richard, SWV, Jagged Edge, Bilal and Anthony Hamilton.

Barkue Tubman-Zawolo, chief of staff for talent and diaspora engagement at Essence Ventures, told the Associated Press that the festival helps connect the global black community.

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“Historically, as black people, we are sometimes not sure where our heritage comes from,” Tubman-Zawolo said. “America is just one place. But within America, there is a melting pot of different black cultures: Africa, Latin America, Europe, the Caribbean. If we understand that, we can expand our power even further.”

Tubman-Zawolo said those connections were visible throughout this year’s film festival at the city’s convention center, where fans listened to storytellers from Nigeria, Ghana and the Caribbean “targeting our stories, about us, for us, globally.”

She noted similar connections on the Food and Wine stage, where discussions focused on Caribbean and African cuisine, on the Soko Market Place, where vendors from around the world showcased their crafts, and on the Caesars Superdome stage, which highlighted Caribbean and African artists, including Machel Montano from Trinidad.

“All of this happened in four days,” Tubman-Zawolo said. “But the beautiful thing is that it doesn’t stay here. (Fans) take it with them.”

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell said this year’s theme, “We Love Each Other,” was appropriate.

“The whole ‘we love each other’ theme brought us together to build community,” she said.

The festival’s impact on the city and state has exceeded $300 million and has attracted more than 500,000 visitors since 1994.

Essence launched the festival to celebrate the magazine’s 25th anniversary.

“Integrating the locals in a way that we can see, touch, feel and smell was part of the development of Essence,” Cantrell said.

The current contract for the event ends in 2026, but Caroline Wanga, CEO of Essence Ventures, has said New Orleans will be the festival’s home “forever.”

“We believe that too,” Cantrell said. “We have a foundation that has been laid over 30 years. The city is always ready and prepared to host these and other events. I think staying in New Orleans is the best solution and the best connection, the best partnership.”

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