Seattle Times music critic

Close your eyes and think “Northwest Folklife Festival.” What do you see?

A bluegrass fiddler? A juggler? A kid with face paint?
All those will be on hand, of course, when the 44th Northwest Folklife Festival gets under way at Seattle Center on Friday, May 22, but there will also be a surprise: hip-hop emcees and break dancers.

Festival preview
Northwest Folklife Festival
11 a.m.-10 p.m. May 22-24, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. May 25, Seattle Center, Seattle; free, donations requested (206-684-7300 or

That’s right. The cultural focus of this year’s festival is “Beats, Rhymes and Rhythms: Traditional Roots of Today’s Branches,” a program that showcases hip-hop and a tribute to the late Dumi Maraire, who established the Zimbabwean marimba tradition in the Northwest more than 40 years ago.
There will also be break dancing, a graffiti exhibit, a scratch showcase, performances of spoken word, archival films and panel discussions about Seattle hip-hop history. (Refer to our daily list of highlights for details.)

“If we are representing the Northwest, we need to be talking about hip-hop,” explained Folklife’s director of programs, Kelli Faryar, who said she has been particularly pleased to see how local groups such as 206 Zulu, which offers break-dance programs for kids through Arts Corps, fits Folklife’s mission of “bringing communities together.”

Hip-hop may be a surprise for many Folklife fans, but it actually isn’t new to the festival. Back in 1994, the Memorial Day spree presented its first hip-hop showcase, which featured, among others, emcee Jace, whose appearance this year provides some nice historical continuity.

Best bets
NW Folklife Festival 2015: Daily highlights
Another historical nicety: “Beats, Rhymes and Rhythms” will feature one of Dumi Maraire’s sons, Dumi Jr., who raps under the handle Draze. (Another of Dumi’s sons is Tendai, half of the successful Seattle hip-hop group Shabazz Palaces.) Recently, Seattle rapper Macklemore retweeted a Draze song about Seattle gentrification, “The Hood Ain’t the Same.”

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