CLEVELAND, Miss.: In November 2019, The Delta Center and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area collaborated with regional education and cultural heritage tourism stakeholders Delta State University, B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, and Visit Clarksdale to establish the Delta Delegation to Brazil program with Mississippi Delta Blues Festival Brazil (MDBF) and University of Caxias do Sul (UCS). That year, during the Delta Delegation’s visit to Caxias do Sul, Brazil, an official partnership was established between Delta State and UCS to develop educational and cultural exchange opportunities between the universities and the regions that they serve.
“Despite COVID-19 challenges, we have continued to build this innovative experiential learning program,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of The Delta Center and executive director of the MS Delta NHA at Delta State. “In 2020, as part of our International Delta Blues Project, Delta State’s International Conference on the Blues went online with MDBF, reaching hundreds of Blues fans nationally and internationally. By 2021, the City of Clarksdale and Caxias do Sul had become sister cities centered around Clarksdale’s annual Juke Joint Festival and MDBF. This year, MDBF organizers and a journalist from Caxias do Sul visited Delta State, Clarksdale, and the BB King Museum to discuss how our Delta Delegation can reconnect in person with MDBF and UCS.”
These discussions led to the 2022 Delta Delegation traveling to Brazil to meet with UCS faculty and cultural program leaders and to participate in the 13th annual MDBF, dubbed the “Clarksdale Edition,” in tribute to the Mississippi Delta town’s central place in the history and contemporary landscape of the blues.
Festival goers could watch Clarksdale musicians Lee Williams and Jaxx Nassar play on the Ground Zero Stage, spend some time listening to Hambone Gallery owner Stan Street at the Red’s Juke Joint Stage, then walk a short way and be standing in front of the New Roxy Stage where 2022 Indianola Blues Challenge winner DK Harrell and music scholar/B.B. King Museum board member Alphonso Sanders weaved saxophone and guitar together, bringing the spirit of the Mississippi Delta alive for a crowd 5,000 miles from the nearest Delta crossroad.
“We were thrilled to have DK and Alphonso representing us on the international stage,” said Malika Polk-Lee, executive director of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. “Events like the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival – Brazil reminds us that Mississippi Delta blues artists like B.B. King shaped music across the world. It is important for the B.B. King Museum to support events that are continuing to promote the legacy of blues music thus promoting the legacy of artist such as B.B. King.”
UCS is among the largest universities in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, with an enrollment of more than 20,000 students. Founded in 1967, it is also the oldest university in the region. MDBF is considered to be the largest and longest-running blues festival in South America.
Fabiola Sartori, coordinator of UCS International, arranged a full day of activities at the university for members of the Delta Delegation. The schedule included a welcome meeting with Dr. Asdrubal Falavigna, UCS Vice-Rector; a partnership planning meeting with UCS faculty in geography, arts, history, and languages; an interview about MS Delta and Brazilian cultural connections at UCS Play podcast; and a tour of the UCS Institute of Historical and Cultural Heritage.
“The meeting between UCS faculty and the Delta Delegation was very exciting,” said Fabiola Sartori. “We came out of it with a lot of ideas on how to engage students here and at Delta State. We look forward to taking the next steps in our partnership with Delta State University and continuing to strengthen this relationship.”
The 2022 Delta Delegation also promoted Mississippi Delta cultural heritage tourism for three nights at MDBF. The team shared MS Delta stories and tourism information with MDBF guests, including copies of Living Blues magazine and travel brochures from BB King Museum, Mississippi Blues Trail, and MS Delta NHA. UCS Radio was onsite at the festival and interviewed Bubba O’Keefe, executive director of Visit Clarksdale, and Dr. Herts and Todd Campbell, representatives of The Delta Center and MS Delta NHA.
“The festival gave us a chance to bring a taste of Clarksdale to Brazil, of our artists and our music,” said Bubba O’Keefe, executive director of Visit Clarksdale and Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area board member. “And festival goers learned what we already know that one taste isn’t enough. We will continue to strengthen our international relationships and we look forward to welcoming our Brazilian guests when they come to visit us in Clarksdale.”
Brazil is the 8th leading country worldwide in sending students to the U.S., according to the 2022 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange released by the Institute of International Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. When Delta Delegation to Brazil started in 2019, Brazil was 9th in this ranking. Brazil is number one in sending exchange students to the United States among South American countries.
“We’re really excited to be renewing our relationship with UCS” said Michelle Johansen, international education coordinator at Delta State. “This partnership creates unique cross-cultural educational opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and community members here at Delta State and at UCS.”
Dr. Andrew Novobilski, DSU Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, echoed Johansen’s sentiment. “Delta State’s home in the Mississippi Delta provides students with a unique and valued experience. A strong partnership with UCS will provide the opportunity for both student communities to experience the world through their friendships with each other – a cultural exchange that benefits all!”
Brazil also continues to be considered an emerging tourism market by Travel South USA, the official regional destination marketing organization of the Southern US. Travel South USA connects Southern destinations with tour operators and journalists from around the world who influence more visitor spending in the South. Mississippi is a member of Travel South USA.
The Delta Delegation to Brazil was sponsored by hosts Toyo Bagoso, lead organizer of MDBF, and Fabiola Sartori, coordinator of UCS International.
Speaking to local newspaper Pioneiro, Bagoso reflected on the festival. “We have musicians here who are at the festival who lost people close to their family, people who lost their father or mother to COVID. We are at an event with this large crowd where there are still many traumatized people. So, just the fact that the festival is happening makes me happy. And when someone comes to me to complain about something I say: “Guys, we’re alive”.”
2022 was the thirteenth year of the MDBF – Caxias do Sul, Brazil. Organizers are expanding the festival, with August 2022 featuring the first ever MDBF in Gramado, Brazil, and with the Rio de Janeiro edition approaching its second year.