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Santa Fe stages its first Soul Festival

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe is not lacking in cultural celebrations. Resident Madeleine Wright calls the city a “global hub” for festivals like Spanish and Indian Markets.

Now, Wright wants to add an event to represent and celebrate African-American culture. She’s organized Santa Fe’s inaugural Soul Festival this weekend at First Presbyterian Church.

Madeleine Wright

“We’re really optimistic about making this another major event in Santa Fe,” said Wright, a retired psychology professor who started the African Dance Society while teaching at Houston Community College.

She acknowledged the African-American population in Santa Fe is small, but said that “people come here from all over the world” who could enjoy the performances and educational experiences that the Soul Festival will offer.

Wright and her new board of directors have laid out a three-year plan to build the festival. They hope that next year’s event will have art exhibitions, African-American dance classes and performances, and vendors on the Plaza. In year three, the plan calls for expanding to include outdoor films, art markets and more guest speakers.

For its inaugural year, the festival will feature a gospel concert preceded by a free lecture about African influences in the black church.

“Since the black church is such a cornerstone of African-American culture, we thought starting our inaugural year in the church would be a great way to perpetuate the cultural legacy,” said Wright. She tapped Shani Sterling, a dance professor at Houston Community College, and percussionist Ikechi Ojore, a Houston native, to speak to guests about dance and music in the black church and its roots.

Wright said she wants the lecture to be a “felt experience” for those who come – there will be room for people to get up and move as they learn about “praise dancing.”

“Another difference between American culture and African-American culture, and certainly African culture is everybody dances,” she said. “It’s not a performance, the way you do the dance is just fine because the dance, the music, the song all goes together to create the catharsis we need to reduce stress.”

The main event for the first Soul Festival is a gospel concert by Albuquerque’s God’s House Church Choir. Santa Fe Opera tenor Elliott Paige will also take the stage and sing.

Demetris Terrell Cleveland, God’s House Church choir director, described the 30-person group’s repertoire as “gospel with a twist,” incorporating both contemporary and classic songs. Older songs like “My Hope is Built” and “Jesus is His Name” are on the list alongside others like Kirk Franklin’s “Always.”

“We try and keep up with the times, and make sure were ministering to anyone, young and old,” he said. The choir performs around New Mexico and occasionally elsewhere.

“This isn’t just for us,” Cleveland later said about the choir’s performances. “We have the truth; we need to give it to someone.”

Going forward, Wright hopes future festivals will be able to attract national acts and guests. The board is being mentored by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce and leaders of the International Folk Art Market to ensure future success, she said.

“We hope to raise enough money, have enough interest to expand, and we want everybody that we bring to be excellent,” said Wright.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to Kirk Franklin as Kurt Franklin

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