Tucson's first Native American Music & Art Festival takes place day after Thanksgiving

The Tucson area’s first Native American Music and Art Festival will take place the day after Thanksgiving on the Hotel Congress Plaza.

The event will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 24, and is being organized by Yaqui visual artist and musician Gabriel Ayala.

“Over 20 years ago, there was Tucson Indian Days and it has dissipated. It was like a week-long series of different events celebrating Indigenous culture and it just kinda disappeared,” Ayala said. “And I just kinda longed for that, just as a supporter and as somebody who would attend and I thought I’d maybe try to revive it in a sense.”

Ayala decided to start off with a one-day event dedicated to celebrating and honoring Native American culture, specifically in the Arizona and New Mexico regions.

“There seems to be a lot of excitement in town and it being Native American Heritage Month, I thought it would be very appropriate to have it the day after Thanksgiving,” Ayala said.

The fFestival will include live performances by Randy Kemp at 6 p.m., the Sinquah World Champion Hoop Dancers at 7 p.m., Adrian Wall at 8 p.m. and One Way Sky at 9 p.m. There will be vendors and the Cup Cafe will be open for people to grab a bite.

“The set list is like my playlist. I’ve played with most of them before and they’re all very diverse,” Ayala said. “It’s going to be an evening of cultural sharing in such a great place like Hotel Congress. The festival is an event where people can come and see the cultural sharing of how we see our culture as Natives in an audio and visual way. A lot of times, people will buy Indigenous-looking ware that is not Native-made. It’s very important for me as a creator that if people are going to buy something, it should be Native-made, a hundred percent, and not bought through someone who is mass-producing our culture.”

The artisans will have items such as sculptures, paintings, crafts and fashion for sale. Ayala said next year, they would like to add a fashion show to the festival. A festival t-shirt designed by Ayala will be available as a souvenir.

People of all ages are welcome to the festival and Ayala said there will be audience participation opportunities during the performances.

“It is not a teaching, but a sharing of culture,” Ayala said. “I think that’s a very important word. ‘Teaching’ seems to sound so condescending or tends to bring people down. But a sharing for me is just to celebrate how proud we are of our culture and want to actually have people celebrate and enjoy what we’re trying to showcase.”

Ayala said his dream is to expand the festival to a full week of events in the future and to continue growing over the years. The festival’s admission price is $10 in advance or $15 on the day of the show. Tickets can be purchased online through Dice. 

While Ayala will not be performing at the festival – he will be hosting – he will be performing in the Century Room on Sunday, Nov. 26 at 4 p.m. Tickets for his show start at $15.