Visitors arrive to the 2023 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Credit: Nigell Moses/Verite

Thousands of visitors will be coming to New Orleans this week for the second and final weekend of Jazz Fest 2023. 

Most come for the music, enjoying the rhythms of local and national musicians from Lizzo to Big Freedia to Jazmine Sullivan to Tank and the Bangas to Jill Scott. Many wait in long lines for delicious Creole cuisine. And some even find their way to the air-conditioned Wellness Retreat tent complete with comfortable couches and big soft chairs to rest tired feet.

But Jazz Fest is more than food and entertainment. It’s also an ode to New Orleans culture and heritage. The cultural villages showcase local artists and traditions. The Louisiana Folklife Village features Zydeco musicians and Mardi Gras Indians and Native American tribes. 

Below are a few highlights of the Folklife Village.

Artist BMike 

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Brandan “BMike” Odums, a native of New Orleans and renowned artist, activist and advocate, is known for creating public artworks and programs that engage in a “transnational dialogue about the intersection of art and resistance.” 

Instead of selling his own pieces of artwork, Odums said he wanted to make a statement at this year’s Jazz Fest. He created a collaborative visual exhibition with his own nonprofit organization, Eternal Seeds

The exhibit posed the question, “What’s more important, the flower or the soil that grew it?” 

“So when you think about all that’s represented here at Jazz Fest that represents New Orleans, these are beautiful flowers from the city, but what’s more important to that, I feel it’s the soil that grew it,” Odums said. 

Odums’ exhibit is housed in a double shotgun house. It has two sides, one for “purists” and the other for “tourists.”

Each side has a different look and feel.

“As you see what it looks like to be on both sides, to appreciate the tourists who come down, who love this space, have curiosity around this city,” Odums said. “But also to the purists who live here, who breathe here, who understand how hard it is to be here sometimes.”

Spirit of Fi Yi Yi Mandingo Warriors

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Mardi Gras Indians are rooted in the culture of New Orleans. Through their beaded suits, masking and dance, they are part of the culture bearers that keep the spirit of tradition and heritage alive. 

The Spirit of Fi Yi Yi Mandingo Warriors are featured in the Laissez Les Bon Temp Rouler tent. The Mardi Gras Indian group joined the Jazz Fest again this year, not to perform but to showcase their gorgeous hand-sewn beaded artistry and Masking Indian suits.

The Spirit of Fi Yi Yi Mandingo Warriors originated in the 7th Ward. The group was started by Big Chief Victor Harris, who has been masking for more than 55 years. 

Inside the Jazz Fest tent, master designer Jack Robinson works on a beaded piece. A white cloth covers a square canvas and is covered with white, gold, blue and red beads, featuring shells and trimmings. Robinson has been sewing for 28 years.

“When you are putting it together, it’s like little pieces of the puzzle and you keep putting it together till it makes a suit,” Robinson said.

He said creative freedom allows him and other craftsmen to design the intricate and illustrious suits people see during Mardi Gras, Super Sunday and second lines. Every garment, mask and instrument tells a story about culture, heritage and community, Robinson said.

“If you don’t have no imagination, you can’t be a part of our tribe, because we don’t draw nothing,” Robinson said. 

Louisiana Native Nations

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At the Native Nations Tent, a crowd gathers around to view the Native Nations Intertribal PowWow. The Native Nations Intertribal group was founded 25 years ago. 

The Native Nations Tent features the rich heritage of Native American culture, showcasing drumming, singing, dancing, and powwow troupes. Festival goers also have the opportunity to learn about the origins of drum groups. Some of the featured tribes at Jazz Fest include the United Houma Nation, Jena Band of Choctaw, Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana and Louisiana Band of Choctaw. 

Each day, there’s a powwow performance featuring Native American dances: traditional, straight dance, grass dance, fancy shawl, jingle, hoop, southern cloth and stomp dance. The powwow is based on Pan-Indianism, where all tribes come together to celebrate. 

A powwow is a public social traditional style of dance, says LaRay Guerrero, a Native Nations member and enrolled citizen of the Haliwa Saponi Indian tribe in Hollister, North Carolina. 

“The dances that we’re doing are our social dances that are known as our powwow style of dancing,” said Guerrero. “Our powwow is our social gatherings that got started after we were placed on reservations. It started back in the ‘50s and ‘60s, with the Wild Bill West shows,” he said.

Guerrero has been performing at Jazz Fest for more than a decade. He said having Native American tribes at Jazz Fest is important because “a lot of people in the United States don’t realize that there is still an actual native Indigenous presence throughout the whole country.” 

“It’s important to let people know that we’re still here and still a race of people,” Guerrero said.

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New Orleans native Nigell Moses graduated summa cum laude from Xavier University of Louisiana with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication. She is a published contributing writer, with stories in The...