Date Observed: Last weekend in August
Location: Asheville, North Carolina

Goombay! is an outdoor festival held every August in Asheville, North Carolina (see also Miami/Bahamas Goombay Festival). It stresses appreciation of African and West Indian traditional music and dance in commemoration of the emancipation of Caribbean slaves (see also West Indies Emancipation Day).

Historical Background

Goombay! is a celebration that dates back hundreds of years among slaves in the Caribbean. Goombay is a Bantu word for a goatskin drum that is beaten with the hands; it also refers to music associated with the drum.

On August 1, 1834, Great Britain abolished slavery throughout its Caribbean territories. Ever since, that date and event have been heartily commemorated in the Caribbean as well as in the United States before emancipation (see also Emancipation Day).

Creation of the Festival

The Young Men's Institute Cultural Center, Inc. (YMICC) organized the first Goombay! celebration in 1982. The mission of YMICC is to celebrate African-American culture and diversity in the community. YMICC's desire to preserve the past and create a bridge to the present and future laid the groundwork for the creation of Goombay! The festival continues to grow in popularity and is now put on through the cooperative efforts and assistance of Asheville's Parks and Recreation Department, the North Carolina Arts Council, the Community Arts Council of Western North Carolina, and the Friends of YMI Cultural Center.

The YMICC is housed in a landmark building on the National Register of Historic Places, commissioned by George Vanderbilt in 1892. It was built by and for the same black workmen who constructed Mr. Vanderbilt's own famed Biltmore House in Asheville. At 18,000 square feet, YMICC housed everything from the corner drugstore to the public library to bathing facilities. For Asheville's black population, it was the hub of almost every facet of their lives for decades.

In 1980 a major renovation program was undertaken and YMICC took on the role it holds today, offering direction and leadership to the African-American constituents whom it serves.


Goombay! is held each August over a three-day weekend. Events begin about midday. The first two days of the festival run until late evening; on the final day, closing ceremonies conclude around 6 P . M .

Goombay! is family-oriented, so activities are planned for all ages, with both a main and a children's stage providing entertainment. In any given year, attendees can expect to see drum circles, steel drums, stilt-walkers, traditional African-American dancers replete with feathered headdresses and elaborate costumes, contemporary rhythm bands, and much more. The "Isle of Delight Café" serves up authentic Caribbean cuisine, and vendors display African and Caribbean arts and crafts.

Contacts and Web Sites

Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau 151 Haywood St. Asheville, NC 28802 828-258-6103

YMI Cultural Center Administrative Office 39 S. Market St. Asheville, NC 28801 828-252-4614; fax: 828-257-4539

Further Reading

Hull, Arthur. Drum Circle Spirit: Games, Exercises and Facilitation. Northampton, MA: White Cliffs Media, Inc., 1998. Olatunji, Babatunde, with Robert Atkinson. Beat of My Drum: An Autobiography. Foreword by Joan Baez. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007


Last weekend in August
Goombay! is a celebration of African and Caribbean heritage, culture, and arts held during the last weekend of August at Eagle and Market Streets in Asheville, N.C. A free event sponsored by the Young Men's Institute Cultural Center, Inc., the festival has been held each year since 1982. "Goombay" is a Bantu word that refers both to a goatskin drum and to the music played on it; the word is associated with festivals that commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the British territories of the Caribbean in 1834.
Activities are scheduled over three days and include dance and stilt performances, as well as entertainers in a variety of musical styles, such as reggae, R&B, jazz, and Afro-fusion. In addition, festivalgoers may take part in children's games, mask making, demonstrations of traditional crafts, or, for a fee, participate in African percussion lessons with a master drummer. Food is available at the "Isle of Delight CafÉ," which features Caribbean cuisine.
YMI Cultural Center
39 S. Market St.
Asheville, NC 28801
828-252-4614; fax: 828-257-4539
Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau
151 Haywood St.
Asheville, NC 28802
AAH-2007, p. 186
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.