July 17, 2023

IgboFEST Houston celebrates 20th anniversary at Discovery Green

Performers pose by the stage at Discovery Green before the Igbo Festival in downtown Houston

IgboFEST is Houston’s largest celebration of Nigerian and African culture. This Saturday, July 22 from 3 – 9  pm, the festival will celebrate its 20th anniversary at Discovery Green with dance, food, spoken word and masquerades.

Did you know Houston is home to the largest Nigerian diaspora population in the United States? That Nigeria-Houston connection has greatly enriched the city’s connections to popular culture and entertainment. For example, just a few of the famous Nigerians you might know because of their Houston’s connection include:

  • The great Hakeem Olajuwon, who needs no other introduction
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the writer and MacArthur Genius whose TEDx Talk “We Should All Be Feminists” was sampled by Beyonce’s Flawless
  • Tobe Nwigwe, the rapper and actor whose music was featured in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and who played the best friend in the Alief-centric Netflix show Mo
  • Kechi Okwuchi from America’s Got Talent, who performed a tribute to Covid victims as part of Discovery Green’s virtual gala in 2021
  • And Fat Tony, whose music has pioneered Houston’s DIY rap scene since 2008

Igbo, pronounced “ee-bow,” is an ethnic group from Nigeria known for its delicious cuisine, its vibrant fashion and high energy dance and performances. Dr. Chris Ulasi, one of the organizers of the IgboFEST, said the festival on July 22 will feature all these aspects of the Igbo culture along with other Nigerian ethnicities including Yoruba and Hausa. In fact, West African culture in general will be represented, as well as the African influences found in American traditions, he said.

“The purpose [of IgboFEST] is to celebrate common humanity through cultural expression,” Dr. Ulasi said. “Because the culture – experienced here in the United States and in Houston – has included the authentic African Igbo Nigerian culture and blended with the culture of Nigerian Americans… you have elements of traditional drumming or aspects that represent the lineage of Igbo culture.”

The festival is sponsored by Wazobia African Market, so expect the opportunity to taste authentic African cuisine with a variety of menus. Expect a fashion parade, magical dance performances and spoken word as well.

Not to be missed, Dr. Ulasi said, is the headlining performance by Igwe Cultural Entertainment. The group is led by Ugochukwu, a Harvard-educated, Houston based dancer, who teaches and mentors young people. “Igwe” is an Igbo word that can be translated many ways: the sky, a king and the broad universe of living. The rich layers of meaning lead to an abundance of expressions.

“As an Igbo of Nigerian heritage, even I discover new things every time. These cultural experiences of our cultural heritage are passed on and represented by the young and change in that way.”

To close the festival will be an Ijele masquerade, which Dr. Ulasi describes as “the largest masquerade in Igboland.” Unlike many performances where the crowd watches from one position, the crowd must walk around it to truly experience it. It’s perhaps best to watch this video to understand what that means.

Early in the festival’s history it was held at various community centers and attended almost completely by Nigerians. In 2019 the festival moved to Discovery Green and after a pause for Covid, returned to the park in 2022.

Discovery Green’s location, size and reputation as a place to showcase Houston’s diversity of traditions make it the perfect place to grow the festival’s impact. The move to Discovery Green broadened the festival’s appeal, attracted a larger audience and allowed the city’s multi-cultural population to learn more about Nigerian-Americans’ contributions to the city, Dr. Ulasi said.

“Since 2019, [IgboFEST] has become a major part of Houston’s cultural scene,” Dr Ulasi said. “Discovery Green has impacted not only the way people see Igbo culture, but also the way people see the immigrant experience in general.”

Are you planning a festival, concert or large corporate event? Have it at Discovery Green! Applications are now being accepted for venue rentals. For more information visit discoverygreen.com/rentals

Part of Discovery Green’s mission is to shine a light on the diversity of traditions that exist in Houston. We need your support. Join the community of donors now! You can make a difference. discoverygreen.com/donate

Performers pose by the stage at Discovery Green before the Igbo Festival in downtown Houston