The Other Voodoofest

00:00 October 09, 2012
By: Emily Hingle
[Courtesy of Brandi Kelley/Voodoo Authentica]

While massive crowds swarm City Park to indulge in music at The Voodoo Music Experience, a Voodoofest of another kind will be celebrating their 14 th year of existence on Halloween day, Wednesday, Oct. 31, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Voodoo Authentica Cultural Center and Collection located at 612 Dumaine St. in the heart of the French Quarter. This Voodoofest is produced by the practitioner owned and operated store Voodoo Authentica that has been open since 2006 and specializes in supplying believers with spiritual work, gris gris bags, and other ritual items. During the annual one-day event, attendees are taken into the little-known and highly misjudged religion of Voodoo, and will learn about the practice and even witness a ritual which outsiders are rarely allowed to see. The event includes speakers telling the story of Voodoo throughout the ages, music, and delicious food that's free for attendees.

This city has a fascinating relationship with the oft-mischaracterized religion of Voodoo. It was fi rst practiced here by people brought to the city as slaves from Africa and later the Caribbean and French West Indies. The African/Haitian religion mixed with the heavily-practiced Catholicism; the order of God, Christ, Madonna and the saints of Catholicism were easily translated into the spirits in Voodoo. Voodoo Authentica owner Brandi Kelley, an initiated Voodoo practitioner explains, "What they did to help their religion and culture to survive is they would use Catholic images to represent their spirits. It was synchronization; it was easy to make these associations." Even the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau was a wellknown friend of Père Antoine of the St. Louis Cathedral. Voodoo has touched the likes of many prominent fi gures from the city. Mac Rebennack, better known as Dr. John, took his stage name from a man who rivaled Laveau. Kelley affi rms the purpose of the fest, "The whole focus is highlighting and honoring the contributions that Voodoo has made to New Orleans culture and heritage that a lot of people aren't even aware of. People think of New Orleans as French or New Orleans as Spanish, and they don't realize how many African and Caribbean infl uences that we have here. I'm always surprised at that, but very few people really understand what an impression those infl uences have had on us and still today; our music, our food. So that's why we serve food and make a whole experience; they're eating the food and hearing the music and listening to talks about where all this comes from."

[Courtesy of Brandi Kelley/Voodoo Authentica]

The scheduled activities also include presentations, book signings, spiritual consultations, art and more. Some highlights of the fest for those that want to learn about the religion are the discussions lead by members of the practice. Guest priests, priestesses, and practitioners will be holding lectures throughout the day; Haitian Vodou Priestesses Mama Lola, Brandi Kelley's godmother, and Mambo Maggie, local Voodoo Priest Elmer Glover, and Marie Laveau expert Dr. Ina Fandrich will inform fest-goers about the many facets of Voodoo throughout the history of Southern Louisiana and it's practical uses today. "All of our presenters are so dedicated to what they do and spirits and it comes through when you watch them. I believe it's a great experience," states Kelley proudly. Dr. Glover will speak about the evolution of Voodoo in New Orleans from its beginnings to practical ways to use it in your life, Cajun Voodoo Priest Jesse Brunet will speak on Cajun people and Voodoo with cultural heritage, and New Orleans native Houngan Blanc will talk about Haitian Vodou and his own experience becoming a priest in Haiti.

No fest is complete without music. Bruce Sunpie Barnes will be performing his brand of bluesy Zydeco, and he will be speaking about how Voodoo has infl uenced him and his music. "When Sunpie performs he's talking between songs and letting people know that his music is very inspired by spirits." One musician that has been with Voodoo Authentica since they began their fest passed away recently; Coco Robicheaux was never candid about his love of Voodoo. Kelley says, "This year is our fi rst year without Coco Robicheaux. He's been with us from day one, since 1999. So we're defi nitely going to be honoring Coco in our Ancestral Ceremony and do a tribute."

The Ancestral Ceremony that will close out the festival at 7 p.m. is a live ritual; something that non-Voodoo practitioners are hard pressed to see elsewhere. The ceremony will have a drum circle led by Luther Gray of Bamboula 2000. And just before the ceremony commences, Luther will teach African Drumming 101 that everyone is encouraged to join in to further experience the religion.

[Courtesy of Brandi Kelley/Voodoo Authentica]

All of the events at Voodoo Authentica's Voodoofest will be educational in the hopes that misconceptions about their religion will be diminished and opinions changed. "We try to educate so there isn't the stigma and people can acknowledge that they practice Voodoo. Suffi ce it to say that a lot of people are practicing and not even realizing they do it because they're carrying on traditions like washing their front steps with brick dust just because their mom and grandmother did it. They don't know why they do it. They just say they're cleaning their steps; their spiritually cleaning their steps with brick dust. It's a part of our history and culture, it's a religion, it's not a cult, it's very positive, the word Voodoo means God, Creative Spirit, Creative Force of the Universe, these are good things," says Kelley. The store also offers free year-round classes on Voodoo every Sunday night teaching prayers and rituals.

Brandi Kelley further emphasizes the importance of learning about Voodoo for its cultural value, "Being born and raised here, I have a real focus on keeping those traditions alive. Part of New Orleans is African and Haitian and so many other things blended into this gumbo of New Orleans Voodoo.

It's hard to say 'Here is what New Orleans Voodoo is.' We learn as we go along. It is a collection of practices from people who all were brought here, and all these people had one thing in common; they loved spirits, but they had different names for spirits. At Voodoo Authentica, there's a an altar for Marie Laveau, you'll see a picture of Jesus at the very top, some things that represent the Black Hawk tradition, some Native American things, African statues, and Haitian fl ags. You'll see all that because we are a mix." You can learn more about Voodoo Authentica, Voodoofest, and the scheduled events at Kelley ends with the statement, "Voodoofest is an awesome educational opportunity, it's a good way to meet people that actually practice and you do learn a lot that one day. It's an opportunity to make connections with practitioners."

Left two photos provided courtesy of Brandi Kelley/Voodoo Authentica.

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