Festival spotlights Indigenous artists

When Gabriel Ayala — an internationally recognized guitarist and painter — noticed the lack of Native American cultural events in Tucson, he created his own.

The first Native American Arts and Music Festival is Friday, Nov. 24, at the Plaza at Hotel Congress.

The theme, “All My Relations,” encourages the exchange of cultures.

A member of the Yaqui people of Southern Arizona, Ayala said the city had Tucson Indian Days 20 years ago.

“It was a full week of cultural events that led up to a giant powwow at the convention center,” Ayala said.

“It unfortunately just fizzled out and never happened again. I was always disappointed and wishing that something like this would happen again. I took it upon myself to reach out to the people at Hotel Congress and pitched them the idea. They loved it, and I’m very thankful that they are hosting the event for us.”

Ayala participated in “Tucson Indian Days,”

“It was seven full days,” he said.

“Every night, there were concerts or some type of cultural event happening at various locations throughout all of Tucson. Now, it’s just vanished. I remember being a part of these events. I remember going to watch these concerts. I remember as a powwow dancer going to the powwow and dancing all weekend long. It was at the hockey rink, and they would have to put mats over the ice. What a great memory. It’s too bad it’s just a memory, and this generation doesn’t know it. Hopefully in the years to come, we will make this a weeklong festival.”

He hopes to see his event continue to grow, highlighting different Native American cultures.

“I want to start bringing something back,” Ayala said.

“Here, it’s Native American Heritage Month, and there’s not a lot going on. So, I thought if I can bring it back, we’ll start with a one-night event, go into two days next year and start slowly adding a day or two here and there. I would love to be responsible for bringing back ‘Tucson Indian Days.”

The upcoming event will honor Native American contributions in the Southwest by highlighting local Indigenous musicians, artisans and dancers.

Ayala said it was important to him to showcase traditional and contemporary performers. Among this year’s performers are world champion hoop dancers Sampson and Scott Sinquah.

The show’s headliner is One Way Sky, an alternative rock group of youth from the Tohono O’odham Nation and Gila River Indian Community.

Ayala said he wanted to spotlight this up-and-coming group.

“As an older musician, someone who has been at it for my whole life, I felt it is important to showcase them, these artists that don’t always have the opportunity to be a headlining band,” Ayala said.

Many performers are also visual artists. Along with playing the Native American flute, Randy Kemp is a storyteller, painter and printmaker. He is a member of the Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek and Euchee tribal nations.

Adrian Wall is a renowned sculptor, Native American flute player and singer-songwriter from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico.

Ayala chose artists from a range of mediums, who will bring clothing, wall art, jewelry and other types of artwork.

“Everything is going to be really diverse and multimedia, so it’s not the same things at every booth. Everybody is going to be unique to themselves,” Ayala said.

During the event, Ayala will act as emcee. He wanted to spotlight others.

“For me, I didn’t want it to be just about me,” Ayala said.

“I didn’t want to run an event so I could just showcase myself and blast myself the whole night. In our culture, it’s never about that. It’s about giving back. For me, this festival is really about giving back and letting everyone else shine.”

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