When people show up for the Umoja festival, they expect sights, sounds and a good time. Vendors like Nema Saho and musicians like the 4.0 Band supply those key festival ingredients to give everyone just what they’re asking for when they step onto the streets of downtown Johnson City.
Saturday’s festivities provided a welcome home party of-sorts for Cybil Holman and her family. Originally from Johnson City, Holman’s visit from Murfreesboro coincided with Umoja for the second time.
“I still feel like it’s home,” she said. “I think the Umoja Festival brings a lot of people here and there is something here for the entire family.”
Music is just one part of the family-friendly atmosphere. The 4.0 Band made its public debut at Umoja cranking out an array of funk tunes inspired by bands of the past. Avery Deakins, the group’s youngest member at 15 years old, is broadening his horizons by performing a type of music he’s always liked, but hadn’t played much of on his electric guitar. Deakins said the band practiced for months to give people an entertaining set of groove records.
“We worked our fingers to the bone during long, long, practices,” he said. “I’m more nervous about equipment malfunctioning than us. We’ve got it down pat. Unless something explodes, I think we’ll be fine.”
The 4.0 Band blasted out renditions of “Brick House,” “Mustang Sally,” plus Kool & The Gang’s “Fresh.”
Umoja attendees looking to wander around may have searched through the piles of African fabrics under Saho’s tent at the corner of North Roan and East Main streets. The Gambia, West Africa, native travels to different parts of the country to gather authentic crafts like masks, handbags, clothing and beads. He says traveling to diverse festivals like Umoja enable him to present his wares to a new set of customers who are mixed in age and ethnicity.
Holman, like other festival-goers, combined the two elements of performers and vendors, and spent the day in a watch-and-shop routine. She had already purchased a pair of earrings and said she wouldn’t leave without buying a few CDs. Holman’s family also watched the parade Saturday morning.
“Festivals bring you different experiences because you meet a lot of people good and bad, but mostly good,” Saho said. “Umoja is interesting because you have such a variety. I get a chance to teach people about each other because while you are traveling, you’re still learning.”