Home Relationship Lexington’s African culture, diversity celebrated at Swahili Day festival

Lexington’s African culture, diversity celebrated at Swahili Day festival

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The Swahili-speaking community in Lexington is growing, sharing and celebrating its culture with Central Kentucky.

On Saturday, amid the pageantry of the city’s third-annual Swahili Day festival, Elisha Cito Mutayongwa had one message for Lexington:

“They’ve got to be ready for us,” he said.

“Our city is very diverse, but we want to create more space where that diversity is celebrated.”

The Marafiki Center organized the event on the Newtown campus of Bluegrass Community and Technical College so local residents could learn more about the under-the-radar African culture that’s flourishing in Lexington.

Swahili, the national or official Language of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and spoken in East Africa, is the third-most spoken language in Lexington.

Performers danced and sang at the center stage while lines ran long for authentic African food from some of Lexington’s most popular food vendors. In between Saturday’s performances and a fashion show, attendees strolled an African marketplace with clothes, fabrics, home goods and accessories.

Swahili Day is another step in the growing movement to connect with the community, said Mutayongwa, director of the Marafiki Center. Events like Saturday’s festival prove the future is bright for Lexington’s African culture.

That community continues to grow and leaders want to build deeper ties in the city.

“We want to build those relationships,” he said.

“We want to create, but it starts with trust, but also bring that trust to the community. When we can bring together an event like this, everyone is welcome, we don’t judge anything. It brings that trust from both sides.”

Semeni Vivo, one of the performers at Swahili Day, lives in California but was asked to perform while he was visiting friends. He said he was moved by the outpouring of connection in the Lexington area.

“We’re creating something,” he said. “We’re creating a strong community, a strong future generation.”

Vivo creates hip-hop music that intertwines English and Swahili in his music to ensure “everyone is understanding.”

“We’ve got different cultures, different languages, different races here, I just want to make sure everyone understands what I’m singing on the stage,” he said.

In 2023, Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton declared June 3 “Swahili Day,” an annual celebration to acknowledge the growth of the African community in the city.

“This is such a huge, growing community in Lexington. … It’s such a vibrant community and watching them grow and prosper over the years has been amazing,” Vice Mayor Dan Wu said Saturday.

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