The Delta Delegation to Brazil program with Mississippi Delta Blues Festival Brazil (MDBF) and the University of Caxias do Sul (UCS) was established 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, all partnered to make it happen. That year, the Delta Delegation visited Caxias do Sul, Brazil, leading to an official partnership between Delta State and UCS to develop educational and cultural exchange opportunities between the universities and the regions 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 M.S. 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.
The spirit of the Mississippi Delta came alive for a crowd 5,000 miles from the nearest Delta crossroad. Travelers listened to Hambone Gallery owner Stan Street at the Red’s Juke Joint Stage, then took a short walk to 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. Not to mention, Clarksdale musicians Lee Williams and Jaxx Nassar played for festivalgoers on the Ground Zero Stage.
“We were thrilled to have D.K. 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 worldwide. The B.B. King Museum needs to support events that continue to promote the legacy of blues music, thus promoting the legacy of artists 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 the largest and longest-running blues festival in South America.
Fabiola Sartori, the 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 M.S. 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 many ideas on engaging 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 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 strengthening our international relationships and look forward to welcoming our Brazilian guests when they 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 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 allow both student communities to experience the world through their friendships with each other – a cultural exchange that benefits all!”
Photos provided by Delta State University