Hmong Arts Festival celebrates qeej with music and dance


This weekend in the Twin Cities arts scene, you can celebrate Hmong music at the Arts Festival in St. Paul, support Black arts and entrepreneurship at U.S. Bank Stadium, and witness artists of color reimagining the future through dance at the Red Eye Theatre.

Festival showcases traditional Miao musical instruments

Qeej players from the Hmong Cultural Center’s qeej program built a human pyramid at St. Paul’s Landmark Center for the 2023 Qeej and Hmong Arts Festival. Credit: Mayuach

The Hmong Cultural Center will host the third annual Qeej and Hmong Arts Festival to celebrate the traditional bamboo wind instrument that is integral to Hmong culture.

While the qeej (pronounced “geng”) is traditionally played at Hmong funerals, the purpose of the festival is to showcase the instrument’s versatility and restore its use for pure musical enjoyment.

“It’s an instrument we used to use to speak,” said festival organizer Kang Vang, referring to its historical use in communicating with the spirits of the dead. “We want to keep that artistry, that tradition, part of our culture.”

Qeej players often dance with their instruments in a crouching position. Vang described performances that might include pirouettes, acrobatic tumbles, handstands or “climbing on each other’s backs, sitting on each other’s shoulders” to form a human pyramid.

The festival lineup includes qeej performances by master Ciaj Sia Lee and the Hmong Cultural Center Orchestra, hip-hop dance by Cypher Side Dance School, and traditional and contemporary Hmong dance by Dao Lan Dance Studio and Iny Asian Dance Theatre.

Visitors can also try their hand at traditional Miao games and archery using handmade wooden and bamboo crossbows. There will be a dedicated arts corner offering coloring activities and traditional Hmong paper hats. Vendors will sell Hmong clothing, crafts and other merchandise, including henna tattoos.

“I hope people can learn something about the Hmong people through the qeej performance,” Vang said. “I hope they also get to see a part of the culture they’ve never seen before, and, if they’re Hmong, I hope they feel more connected to their culture.”

date: Sunday, May 26

time: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Place: RiverCentre, 175 Kellogg Avenue, St. Paul

cost: free

learn more: Please visit hmongcc.org.

Artists of color use dance to move toward a better future

The Red Eye Theater will host the four-week “Works-in-Progress” arts festival, showcasing interdisciplinary performances by 10 color-blended dance, storytelling and art installation artists. This year’s theme is “Futurism,” exploring ancestral connections and the potential of alternative realities and homes.

Noelle Awadallah performs Scarcity, choreographed by Parisha Rajbhandari. Credit: Valerie Olivero

The opening weekend features choreographer Juliet Owen’s “unb’come,” which tells the story of the Black experience in the South through movement and audience participation. Dancer Chen Lu uses improvisation to explore humans’ connection to physical space and emotions in “Testigo/Witness Witness Witness”. Scarcity, by Nepalese dance artist Parisha Rajbhandari, examines the body in motion through vibration, sound and rhythm. The (Unknown) Future by American Hmong playwright Katie Ka Vang presents a series of life-size art collages that explore themes of community, ancestry, and envisioning a better future.

date: Thursday, May 23 to Saturday, May 25

time: 7pm

Place: Red Eye Theatre, 2213 Snelling Ave., Minneapolis

cost: Tickets start at $15. Buy tickets here.

learn more: Visit redeyetheater.org.

Minnesota Soul highlights local Black artists and businesses

The Stairstep Foundation will present Minnesota Soul, a one-day celebration of African American music, dance and entrepreneurship featuring more than 20 local soul performers, seven dance groups and a 60-strong Market composition with multiple black-owned businesses.

Main stage performers include jazz singer Thomasina Petrus, soul singer Jamecia Bennett, neo-soul band Nunnabove, Minnesota Soul Choir and more. Find the schedule here from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Nunnabove band posed for photos. From left to right are Mattie Nunn, Bennett Nunn, Cadence Nunn and Wisdom Nunn. Credit: Nanabov

The dance stage will feature hip-hop, tap, jazz, ballet and Chicago-style eight-beat performances including Twin Cities Steppers, New Black City, Les Jolies Petites, Step with Soul, Unstoppable Dance Company and Hollywood Studio of Dance, 1 p.m. :15 to 5:45

Griot Village in Soul City, Minnesota will feature a market showcasing multicultural fashion dolls, books and poetry by black authors, as well as works by Charles Caldwell, Setou Jones, Christopher Harrison, Donald Walker and Shay ·Artwork by local artists such as Metz.

There will also be live painting demonstrations by Noval Noir and Flahn Manly, as well as a community mural project led by Sean Garrison.

date: Saturday, May 25

time: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Place: Bank of America Stadium, 401 Chicago Ave., Minneapolis

cost: free

learn more: Please visit mnsoul.com.





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