All Souls to stream through Tucson this weekend
Annual procession inspired by Dia de los Muertos has become Baja Arizona tradition of its own
Tens of thousands of people are expected to converge on the West Side of town this weekend to take part in a beloved Tucson tradition — the annual All Souls Procession.
The event started in 1990 as a single performance piece by local artist Susan Johnson who was grieving the passing of her father. Inspired by Mexico's Dia de los Muertos holiday, Johnson felt she should honor her father with creativity and celebration. Over the years it has evolved into a community celebration in honor of departed loved ones. This event marks the 33rd year of the procession.
En español: Todas las Almas caminarán por Tucson este fin de semana
There will be a series of events from Friday evening through Sunday night hosted by Many Mouths One Stomach, the non-profit arts collective that organizes the festivities.
Photographer Kathleen Dreier has been involved with the All Souls Procession since 2010 as part of the media circle and became the media director two years ago.
"This is one of the largest gatherings in the country, if not the world, where people from all walks of life come together to honor the loved ones who have passed," Dreier said. "People do come from all over the world for the procession."
She said it is an opportunity for people to come together to mourn, honor and celebrate loved ones, whether they are family members, partners, or cherished pets.
"I saw someone one year with a sign that said 'loss of democracy'," Dreier said. "It really is an opportunity for people to let go of things as well."
In 2020, the procession didn't occur as usual. The ceremony was livestreamed and took place in a controlled space with no one but performers and crew in attendance. She said the 2021 procession was a smaller version but still "lovely and gentle and very precious." This year, they are back in full force.
There will be three nights of the Dance of the Dead, which is a concert series that takes place at the MSA Annex in the Mercado San Augustin District. MarchFourth will perform on Friday alongside Arts Caravan and KULULULU - plus other guests are still to be announced. MarchFourth is a band that focuses on sounds like jazz, funk and rock. But it won't just be musicians on the stage. Part of their act includes dancers and acrobats. The concert will begin at 6 p.m.
The second night kicks off at 5p.m. with the Cacao Ceremony and an Ancestral Liberation Ceremony. After that, attendees can enjoy vendors, local art and yoga. The concert will feature Shylah Ray Sunshine, an Algonquin vocalist from Canada. Her style is R&B and neo-soul, full of energy and power. Poranguí, an improvisational live looping artist, will also be part of the concert. He blends cultural influences from Mexico, the United States and Brazil.
The final night of Dance of the Dead will begin at 8 p.m. Santa Pachita will perform dance music with styles like cumbia and salsa. Casa de los Muertos DJ's will have a float in the back of the procession and head into the MSA Annex at the end to continue the party.
On Saturday, the Procession of the Little Angels will return to Armory Park. The family-friendly event is designed to reflect the way children grieve and remember the dead.
The kids that attend can enjoy circus acts, theater, and decorating their own sugar skulls. The Red Herring Puppet Company will be by the mask-making tables. Stories that Soar is a session during the event where there will be "performances of stories about death and grief collected from Tucson school children and told in their own words."
The families attending are invited to join the sunset procession, which will be accompanied by the St. Philips Compline Chorus.
The All Souls Procession and Ceremony takes place on Sunday evening. The procession will begin to walk at 6 p.m. The route begins just on Grande Avenue just south of Speedway Boulevard, turns left on to St. Mary's Road, then right onto Bonita Avenue. Pedestrians will be able to take the Riverwalk route by exiting left from Bonita Avenue before Congress Street. Floats and other who don't want to tackle the stairs at Cushing Street will want to continue on Bonita Avenue to Congress street to access the finale site between the Mercado San Augustin and the Santa Cruz River. Participants will arrive at the Mercado District between 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The Domo is a part of the ceremony where people can walk across the stage and showcase their costumes. Dreier said the theme for this year's procession is "A Sandstorm is a Seedstorm." The sentiment is that cycles of death and life are as old as time, and that there is a strong relation between destruction and regeneration. Each sandstorm will spread seeds.
The finale will include music, acrobats, and fire dancers as part of a celebration of life. At the end, Dreier said people's prayers and mementos will be placed in the urn and set on fire to send them to the heavens.
Bianca Morales is TucsonSentinel.com’s Cultural Expression and Community Values reporter, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.