Throughout history and modern day, Harlem has been a source of inspiration across many communities. Globally, it has been a blueprint for cultural innovation, artistic creativity and an abundance of community. The 2023 Harlem Festival of Culture—taking place July 28, 2023 - June 30, 2023— is the rebirth of Black pride celebrations that took place in the area in the late 1960s through programming, entertainment, food and more.
International music legends Estelle and Wayne Wonder spoke about bringing the party to the Harlem Festival of Culture and co-curating a “Dancehall LinkUp” during the weekend.
Editor's Note: After publishing this piece, EBONY was informed that the Harlem Festival of Culture has been postponed.
EBONY: What does the legacy and spirit of Harlem mean to you?
Estelle: Coming to America from London, you hear about Harlem as the birthplace of all these different incredible artists. To me, it was the hub for the second coming of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma; it was a site of Black industry. There are a lot of deep roots in Harlem, and it's where a lot of Black American achievements came from, while being really representative of New York. To have that culminate with the festival in 2023 as a reminder to folks on the East Coast about the greatness that was started here— this is where the cultural Mecca is— is beautiful.
Wayne Wonder: For me, growing up in Jamaica, it was always inspiring to hear about the movies and artists based in Harlem. As a kid, you would want to venture there for yourself and feel that energy. I just wanted to be a part of such a great movement of artistry that has been found there, from graffiti artists to musicians. Harlem's existence is a rich blessing.
In a time when folks are seeking to erase collective Black culture and history, why is it necessary for us to uplift it?
Estelle: If we don't keep telling the story, then it gets erased. We must keep reminding people exactly who we are, especially as the lawmakers continue to erase Black history. It's an honor to continue to reinforce our history into the culture at every single moment. The world is here, and Black folks across the diaspora have contributed so much to it.
Wayne Wonder: The roots of our history can't be covered up. Bob Marley said, "The truth is an offense but not a sin," and it's true. Some people can't stomach the reality. They want to bring in laws now to restrict studying certain things in Black history. What are they hiding? In order for the truth to rule, we have to be at the forefront. We know the crimes that have been committed. Those in power don't want to see themselves reflected in our history, but it's the truth. So we need to come together as a people and just celebrate with events like Harlem Festival of Culture and show them our strength.
How excited are you to be bringing the "Dancehall LinkUp" to the Harlem Festival of Culture?
Estelle: When I came to the U.S. for the first few times in early 1998, I went to Harlem and I found Senegal. I found Jamaica, Grenada and Trinidad, too. I was so happy to be able to get the food, get my hair done and hear the accents. I felt like I was home in Brixton and West London and loved seeing my Grenadian, Senegalese and Caribbean roots. So through the Link Up, we want to bring a taste of home to Harlem. On the world stage, we have reggae, dancehall and Afrobeats represented, and we want to bring it to the Harlem Festival of Culture in the right way.
Wayne Wonder: Music itself is like a record—it keeps spinning and evolving. It is a portfolio that can be remade and shares so many similarities, especially across the African Diaspora. We are one, and we are the same people wherever we go. We have different experiences with different accents but are still connected. Somewhere, someone ate porridge and somebody else ate grits, but we share a similar reality and reflect it within the music from Reggae to Dancehall to Amapiano to Hip Hop. With the LinkUp happening at the Harlem Festival of Culture, we want people to resonate with the sounds and have fun.