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FunTimes Magazine

The Odunde Festival: Shaping Philadelphia’s Cultural Narrative

Jan 16, 2024 02:00PM ● By By Gift Joe

Photos courtesy of

Philadelphia, known as the birthplace of the United States, has diverse cultures that have shaped its identity over the centuries. One of Philadelphia’s brightest cultural jewels is the Odunde Festival which draws up to 500,000 people annually to celebrate African culture. The festival, which has gained a national reputation, brings a taste of Africa to South Street, one of Philadelphia’s oldest, historically African American neighborhoods. It is said to be the largest African American street festival held in the country.

The Odunde festival takes place on the second Sunday in June, every year, covering 16 city blocks and features two stages for live entertainment. South Philadelphia streets come alive with traditional music, handmade crafts, artwork, and street and food vendors. The streets are turned into a marketplace that reflects the diversity and richness of African and African American heritage.

According to, the festival has a $30 million economic impact on the State of Pennsylvania and a $28 million economic impact on the City of Philadelphia.

Photos courtesy of

How Did the Odunde Festival Begin?

It was created in 1975 by the late Lois Fernandez, a former social worker who was inspired to put on the festival after embarking on a Yoruba pilgrimage during a trip to West Africa three years prior. She received a $100 grant and started the first Odunde Festival with neighbors from her South Philadelphia community. It has since become a national model for cultural street festivals in the country, attracting people from around the world. 

The word "Odunde" originates from the Yoruba people of Nigeria, meaning "Happy New Year." It is a celebration of the coming of another year for African Americans and Africanized people around the world. In the Yoruba religion, Odunde is a festival that celebrates the under goddess, Oshun, who reigns over love, intimacy, beauty, wealth, and diplomacy.

On its Twitter page, @yorubanationsCH, The Yoruba Nations CH noted:

“It is derived from the traditions of the Yoruba people of West Africa in celebration of the new year according to the traditional Yoruba calendar or Kọ́jọ́dá, which usually falls on the first moon of June (Òkudù) on the Gregorian calendar, and holds Annually in the city of Philadelphia. The festival logo is an Àkẹtè (fìlà) Abetí ajá on a stylized face with three Yoruba marks on each cheek.”

The Odunde Festival was postponed for two years due to the pandemic but returned in 2022.

Photos courtesy of

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Highlights of the Odunde Festival

A colorful procession from 23rd and South Street to the Schuylkill River where an offering of fruit and flowers is made to Oshun, the Yoruba goddess of the river.

More than 100 vendors are selling handmade goods, including jewelry, artwork, and clothing from African nations, the Caribbean, and Brazil.

Live music and performances spanning Black, African, Caribbean, and South American cultures.

A day full of traditional food, with a variety of vendors rarely seen at other regional festivals serving all sorts of African, Caribbean, and soul food dishes.

The event is free to attend, with pay-as-you-go food and refreshments.

Impact on Community

The festival goes beyond having a good time, it has been a catalyst for community development, providing economic opportunities for local businesses and artists. Also, the Odunde365 initiative ensures that its influence is felt throughout the year, with African and African American cultural programs and events in schools, community centers, and public venues that contribute to the growth and vitality of the community.

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Impact on Philadelphia's Cultural Identity

The Odunde Festival has become an integral part of Philadelphia's cultural identity, showcasing the thriving, diverse communities that call the city home. It is not just a festival but a bridge that connects generations and communities through a shared appreciation for African traditions. The festival is proof that cultural exchange and celebration are essential ingredients in the ongoing story of a city. Its commitment to showcasing diverse artistic expressions, from poetry to visual arts, adds a layer of richness to the cultural celebration.

As Odunde continues to grow and evolve, Philadelphians and visitors alike have come to appreciate the city's cultural richness. Its ability to unite, educate, and empower has made it a cornerstone of the city's cultural identity.

Not only is it about the festivities, but Odunde is also an economic driver in Philadelphia, bringing revenue to the city and the state. The festival has gone from being a small community festival celebrating West African culture to a big event sprawling days every June.

This year, Odunde will be celebrating its 49th anniversary and includes a full week of programming from June 2 to 8, in the traditional South Philadelphia location near 23rd and South Street. 49th. The festival will be held on Sunday, June 9, 2024.

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