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With April kicking off both National Poetry Month and Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), and offering the beauty that is spring, local organization Words Beats and Life is presenting its annual festival with six days of free programming that celebrates and uplifts the beauty of music, poetry and spring.
“Well we’re really excited to be continuing our partnership with the DowntownDC Business Improvement District, and this year we’re hosting an event with them called Jazz and Blossoms,’ part of our seventh annual festival,” Mazi Mutafa, founding executive director of Words Beats and Life, told The Informer on WIN-TV.
With the first event Tuesday and the last Sunday, the festival includes 14 free activities including the “Jazz and Blossoms” concert. Held at Franklin Park on April 8, “Jazz and Blossoms” is part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and in collaboration with the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID), featuring Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Bilal and Pete Rock and The Soul Brothers.
Other performers include DJ John Murph, Ayo, Imani Grace and Her Big Black Band, Daylight DC featuring DJ Divine and Big Tone All Day.
And Saturday’s entertainment goes beyond musical performances.
“They also have multiple food trucks. Holly Bass, who’s an amazing curator here in Washington, D.C., she’s working on a tweed-inspired fashion show, so we’re encouraging people who show up, to wear either floral inspired for the cherry blossoms,” he said. “It’s just a really exciting, multi-element event. It’s going to have haiku poetry, youth poets performing, face painting of flowers and balloon flowers.”
In years past, the Words Beats and Life festival has fallen in November. However, Mutafa said the spring 2023 celebration, filled with concerts, conferences, activations, presentations, food and more, allows the organization and event programming to truly embrace the springtime scenery.
“We’re really tripling down on the flower theme for the cherry blossom festival,” he said.
Gerren Price, president and CEO of the DowntownDC BID, said Franklin Park is the perfect place to “celebrate cherry blossoms and the arrival of spring.”
“We are honored to host this premier National Cherry Blossom Festival event and look forward to bringing world-class musical artists like Bilal, and mesmerizing arts and culture activations through our partnerships with Words Beats and Life,” Price said in a statement. “These events help bring vibrancy and energy to the District’s downtown, and this one will prove to be an experience that is not missed.”
Festival Celebrates Music, Poetry and Artists
Beginning the organization 21 years ago when he graduated from the University of Maryland, Mutafa said the 2023 festival is the biggest event the organization has ever done.
With 14 events throughout D.C. and the surrounding region, Words Beats and Life will be hosting events at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage, Eaton DC and MetroBar and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library for the organization’s annual conference “Remixing the Art of Social Change.”
The week will also uplift game-changers in music and poetry.
“We’re going to be giving an award to Lupe Fiasco, as the inaugural Rap Laureate, which is a program we just created,” Mutafa said, before also teasing the already sold-out event, “A Poet’s Mixtape,” featuring Ursula Rucker, Ayesha Jaco, Amir Sulaiman, Jessica (generally billed “jessica”) Care and more.
More than Entertainment
The organization’s executive director said the mission of Words Beats and Life is to “transform individual lives and whole communities through Hip Hop.”
“So that looks like a festival, it looks like a journal, it looks like public art programs, it looks like classes in 13 different artistic elements, because we want to make the kind of investments that we know are transformational. We’re doing that now in D.C. Public Schools during the day. We’re doing that after school in library, all over the city,” Mutafa said. “We’re doing that by developing youth poet laureate programs. In many ways, we exist to be the things that we wish existed before we created them, because we know the difference that it can make in our city, in the lives of our young people… in the lives of our communities.”
With he and his team’s intentional work about improving the community through their initiatives, Mutafa said the organization not only trains some of the area, region, nation and world’s favorite DJs, through its programming, there’s a lesson.
“Rap music and hip-hop is not just what lives on the radio. It’s what lives in our communities. It’s the values and the principles that guide our thinking and decision making.”