N’gamet Keita is a person whose story you should know about, and not just because of the Free Things in Life Music and Arts Festival (August 2018) that she started in Durham. When I sat down with her, I only expected to get a brief rundown of her story and the festival. As I listened to her talk about her life and journey from Africa to the US and struggles as a young creative, I was blown away at the person sitting in front of me. N’gamet is clearly a person who is ready to work for what she wants and is driven by a strong, abundance-filled mindset. But instead of me going on and describing her for you, let’s allow Keita to speak for herself, Free Things, and more!
Learn more about at the Free Things in Life Music and Arts Festival website and Facebook Page!
Special thanks to N’gamet Keita for sitting down with us for this People of NC interview during preparations for the Free Things in Life Music and Arts Festival. All photos by Christina Riley, unless otherwise noted.
Carl Hedinger: What brought you to Durham and what’s keeping you here?
N’gamet Keita: I am originally from Guinea, West Africa and I moved here when I was nine with my mother and my older brother. We technically moved here for a better education, which is a pretty valid point because the educations system in my country is pretty crap. My mom at the time worked for the United Nations so she was able to get us visas to bring us to the United States so she took the opportunity to do that. Eventually, we ended up migrating down to the south after spending some time living in New York. At first, we lived in Charlotte and went back and forth between there, Durham, and Raleigh, but we were able to get into a school in Durham, which was the reason we stayed here. It was easier to get into school in Durham for some reason so my mom decided that we were staying here. I ended up starting fifth grade and have been here since 2005.
The Free Things in Life Festival
CH: So tell me a little bit about The Free Things in Life Festival?
NK: Free Things in Life is a free independent music and arts festival that supports and sustains emerging creative entrepreneurs. Most of the artists hail from North Carolina but we expand across the United States. Whoever is able to come and attend, we gladly invite them to come. No one pays anything to be a part of it. Vendors come for free. Food vendors come for free. Artists get to exhibit for free and attendees come for free. No one pays to attend the festival. Even the musicians play for free which I think is very noble of them because it is something they are trying to make into their living. For them to donate their time just to be a part of the vision propels Free Things in Life into being on the level of like Coachella, Hopscotch, or Art of Cool, but then completely free for everyone. I think that’s a very good way to be in this world in a sense.
For everyone to graciously and willingly want to come together to be together and share their art with the world is really powerful. For people to willingly want to give things away for free without expecting anything in return is a very powerful thing. We think that is a very good human characteristic to have and that is something that is very lacking in today’s time. Everyone is so focused on the grind and the hustle. This is the kind of festival where you don’t have to worry about that. You don’t have to worry about having the money to buy something or even participate in something. I think it’s important to have a platform where you can come and enjoy yourself and not have to worry about money or feel bad just because you don’t have enough. I think it’s a good balance of giving and receiving at the same time but on a more humane level where it’s not just a direct transaction but you’re sharing things and opening yourself up to everyone who is there in a peaceful and respectful environment. People just come to share with each other.
CH: How many people came to the last one?
NK: The first festival in 2016 we had a little over 100 people who came and that’s based on one month of social media promotion and online publications. My goal is to get at least 300 people there this year. Because it’s a free festival, people don’t have to get tickets and can come on the day of. It’s just the way that I keep track of how many people are planning on coming.
CH: Who are your favorite artists who have shown up for the festival?
NK: After the festival, I became friends with Brassious Monk. He’s a local Raleigh based rapper. I didn’t think he would even perform for free- but literally three days before the event he agreed! It was so exciting! Sarah Summers has a beautiful voice. She’s not really out there trying to be in the music scene but I knew I had to have her come and be a part of the festival. So, she came out and did just a beautiful job. She’ll be back again this year. In fact, a lot of the artists are coming back again this year. We have a lot of local DJs coming. There’s a new up and coming rapper, 3amSound, he has a live band that plays behind him and is one of our headliners. We’re trying to get this funk band, Up and Up, to also be a headliner. We’re trying really hard to get a mix of genres like hip-hop, funk, disco, RnB, and different subgenres as well. I think it’s going to be great.
CH: Who is your ideal person to come as an attendee?
NK: I don’t think I have an idea person to come as an attendee. I think that if you just love art and music and nature and you love discovering new things and supporting your community and local indie artists across the board wherever they come from either Durham, Raleigh, or LA or wherever they come from; this is the place for you. We’re dubbed as a “hippie festival” but we aren’t necessarily hippie. The people who come are often very free-spirited, open-minded, but then some of the people who come are not. Even though that may not be their personality they love art, music and being in and surrounded by nature.
CH: What are some challenges you’ve had getting this festival together?
NK: The biggest thing has been to fund the festival tog et all the amenities that I want there as well as the support from the community. I feel like right now we’re growing a lot and people are just starting to get to know us. I think over time we will start to get more support because we are in return supporting our community. Funding and just getting the bodies there have been our biggest challenges.
CH: Any advice for someone who wants to do the same thing you’re doing?
NK: I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m an expert. For someone who just jumped in the scene, I’m learning as I go along.
You need a team, first and foremost. You can do it by yourself, but it will drive you crazy. You need a team to delegate all of the responsibility to fully be able to have a successful process and festival. Connecting with the community that you’re in and being vocal about your event is also really important. If you don’t talk about it then no one is really going to know about it. You can’t just rely on social media or a publication. You really need to work hard and prove yourself to people no matter if you think you don’t. People look at free things and may not think much of it. People see the final end product and miss behind the scenes. I try to be as transparent as possible.
Be more comfortable with sharing your story as well. Get the help and let people help you when they say they want to help you.
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
We look forward to seeing this festival in person and hope it can continue growing in Durham and beyond. Learning about N’gamet’s story and how she started Free Things in Life Music and Arts Festival inspired me on so many levels. Unique people like her are a big part of why we love living in and traveling through North Carolina.
What about you? Have you heard of Free Things in Life Music and Arts Festival before? If you’re looking for something fun and free to do in Durham, this is for you! If you’ve been before, we’d love to know your thoughts on it!