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Brazilian festival organizers visit Cleveland and Delta State

DSU President Dan Ennis with Delta Delegation to Brazil.

CLEVELAND, Miss. — Toyo Bagoso first visited the Mississippi Delta in 2003. That visit eventually inspired the first ever Mississippi Delta Blues Festival (MDBF) Brazil in 2008. Today, the annual event is the largest blues festival in Latin America.

This past April, 14 festivals and more than 20 years later, Bagoso returned to the Mississippi Delta to prepare for the 15th annual Mississippi Delta Blues Festival Brazil, the “Cleveland, MS Edition.”

Bagoso’s visit was organized by the Delta Center for Culture and Learning (DCCL) and the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MS Delta NHA) as part of the ongoing Delta Delegation to Brazil partnership with MDBF Brazil and the University of Caxias do Sul (UCS) to promote intercultural exchange. Delta Delegation to Brazil recently garnered statewide media attention from Mississippi Free Press and SuperTalk Mississippi.

“Our partnership has led the Mississippi Delta Blues Festival Brazil to take an increasingly place-based approach to interpreting the Mississippi Delta’s cultural heritage,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, director of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning and executive director of MS Delta NHA. “The partnership has led to intentional, complex engagement over the last two years, with the 2022 Clarksdale Edition and the 2023 B.B. King Museum Edition. MDBF Brazil has really invested in bringing Mississippi Delta cultural heritage to South America and we’re thrilled to see them interpreting Cleveland this year.”

Bagoso was joined on his research trip by University of Caxias do Sul student and MDBF cultural ambassador Gabriela Sauthier.

Bagoso and Sauthier met with DSU President Dr. Daniel J. Ennis, the DSU International Education office, and the Cleveland/Bolivar County Tourism Commission where Bagoso outlined some of his plans to promote Cleveland this fall and pitched ways that Cleveland and Delta State might engage with the festival.

Michelle Johansen is the Assistant Coordinator for International Student Services at Delta State University. “The Delta Delegation to Brazil is a great partnership because it serves dual purposes,” she said. “The festival promotes the Delta’s culture writ large and our relationship with the University of Caxias do Sul is an avenue for promoting Delta State. In international education, the best way to stand out and recruit students is through interpersonal relationships like the ones we are cultivating through the delegation and our engagement with UCS.”
Brazil is the 9th leading country worldwide in sending students to the U.S., according to the 2023 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. Brazil saw a 7.6 % increase in the number of students they sent to the United States since the last academic year. Brazil is number one in sending exchange students to the United States among South American countries.

Bagoso with MS Delta Cultural Heritage Ambassadors in Clarksdale, MS.

Bagoso and Sauthier presented at Visit Clarksdale with MS Delta NHA Cultural Heritage Ambassadors Program participants who are part of StoryWorks Theater. “We were happy to host our Delta Delegation to Brazil partners and the MS Delta NHA Ambassadors Program cohort,” said Bubba O’Keefe, executive director of Visit Clarksdale and MS Delta NHA board member. “Toyo talked about all of the logistical challenges of developing and planning a cultural festival, which I can appreciate. His musical performance at the end of the session with Keith Johnson and George Mumford was excellent.”

Bagoso and Sauthier also were featured speakers in a Delta Delegation to Brazil Lunch and Learn at the DSU Capps Archives and Museum Building. Bagoso spoke to attendees about the history of MDBF Brazil, before Bagoso and Sauthier were joined by Delta State accounting major and guitarist Presley Adams and MS Delta NHA Cultural Heritage Ambassador Charles Young to perform a collection of Blues and Brazilian Samba songs.

“This was my first time visiting Mississippi. I grew up going to the MDBF Brazil, so I had this idea of what I thought the Delta might be, but I wasn’t 100% sure what to expect,” said Sauthier. “Everyone was so welcoming, the food was great, the music was amazing. It felt like I was at home after only a few days. The Delta definitely lived up to and exceeded what I imagined.”
Bagoso and Sauthier attended GRAMMY Museum Mississippi’s program “Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos.” The event gave the Brazilians opportunities to engage with STAX legends like William Bell, Deanie Parker, Eddie Floyd, Henderson Thigpen, Bobby Manuel, and Cheryl Pawelski.

The Brazilian visitors rounded out their time in Cleveland with an interview for WDSW The Trail, conducted by Nathan Duff, staff writer for the Delta State Communications and Marketing department.

Bagoso and Sauthier have returned to Brazil with new inspiration as the 15th annual Mississippi Delta Blues Festival Brazil begins to come into shape.

“We want to promote Dockery Farms, as one of the most important birthplaces of the blues. And Delta State has been such a wonderful partner, we’re looking forward to centering them at the festival as well,” said Bagoso. “Other parts of Cleveland’s history with the blues I learned about while we were here. I wasn’t familiar with Chrisman Street as a historic center of African American business and culture in Cleveland until I stumbled across the Blues trail marker.”

The Mississippi Delta Blues Festival Brazil, “Cleveland, MS Edition” will be held in November 2024 in Caxias do Sul.