Indian food, music and dancing mayors: Hum Sub Diwali festival is back in Cary

Chuck Liddy/News & Observer file photo

There’s less than 24 hours before the Hum Sub Diwali festival, and mayors of three Triangle towns are feeling the nerves — and excitement.

Hum Sub Diwali, previously known as Cary Diwali, will take over Koka Booth Amphitheatre Saturday, bringing in close to 14,000 people from all over the Southeast to celebrate the significant Indian holiday. Over 12 hours, there will be food vendors, music and performances by Indian singers, traditional dance and activities for children. Admission is free.

The lineup of performances includes a traditional Indian dance performed by Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht, Apex Mayor Jacques Gilbert and Morrisville Mayor TJ Cawley.

“I mean there’s a famous quote, ‘Dance like no one’s watching,’” Cawley said with a laugh. “And that’s how I’ll think about it.”

The mayors have been practicing the dance alongside Cary staff members since July.

“Jacques Gilbert’s in the middle so when he does his moves, I can just watch him,” Weinbrecht said. “The other stuff is all tweaks and making sure we don’t get out of order or not starting a step, or forgetting to put your hand on your hip. I remember getting yelled at for that.”

All jokes aside, the three mayors say the event has been a highlight in Cary and the Triangle’s fast-growing Indian community since 2001. At the end of the night, fireworks will light up the sky to wrap up the festivities.

“Cultural programs are very important for our communities,” Weinbrecht said. “If you’re claiming to be a diverse community, then you need to respect and celebrate and embrace the values and gifts and talents that everyone has to offer.”

Diwali, pronounced duh-vaa-lee, is also known as the festival of lights and marks victory of good over evil, light over dark, and the beginning of the new year.

The holiday is celebrated this year on Oct. 24 and is recognized worldwide by Indian people and anyone else who wants to join in on the celebration.

‘Bringing communities together’

Hum Sub translates to “all of us” in Hindi, said Vijay Jagannath, the president of the Hum Sub non-profit organization that holds the event.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, this is for all of us,” he said.

The organization has been rooted in the Cary community for over 20 years and works to share Indian culture and traditions and to serve as a hub for Indian people in the area.

One of Jagannath’s goals was to expand the Hum Sub brand into other areas of Wake County.

“I want to go beyond Cary,” Jagannath said. “The audience isn’t just Cary. The second thing is that this is an Indian festival but I want to make sure everybody feels welcome regardless of their religious beliefs.”

Jagannath, a resident of Durham, is also a cricket coach and works as a product manager for software company NVIDIA. He said he extended the Hum Sub Diwali invitation to other mayors in the Triangle area, and some have already expressed interest in performing in the event’s “celebrity dance” next year.

“Despite all the busy schedules and everything, they made time,” Jagannath said. The mayors’ involvement has been important, he added.

“They’re representing all of us, and it shows they aren’t just there for the vote,” he said. “You can see the genuine involvement. They’re very approachable as they solve real problems and everything. They’re familiar faces.”

In addition to the dances and activities, Hum Sub will feature special guests, including Congressman David Price and Congresswoman Deb Ross. There will also be a scholarship presentation to area students, Jagannath said.

Dance practice

Jagannath said each mayor will be dressed in traditional Indian attire for the dance. They will dance individually with their own groups, made up of staff members from their respective towns, and then join together at the end.

Local Indian dance instructors worked with the three mayors every week to help them get their steps together, Cawley said.

“We really appreciate these choreographers, they really spoon-fed us the moves and helped us along the way,” Cawley said. “It’s not easy for them to add us, because otherwise they’re deciding which of these really good groups to include and they worked hard to bring us up to speed.”

Gilbert said he will be sporting a pair of golden boots, which he wears on special occasions, during the dance.

“My coaches always tell me, don’t focus on the steps, just relax and listen to the music,” he said. “I’m all about, you know, looking at things in steps and details. So that’s been my biggest challenge.”

Weinbrecht, who had knee surgery in 2019, has been dancing for years and first performed a traditional Indian dance in 2018. He’s most excited about being able to dance with all ages of people.

“I know that teenagers will be screaming and laughing and they’ll have a blast watching the old people,” Weinbrecht said.

On getting involved

Outside of Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville, and Apex are among the fastest growing towns in the state. They’ve attracted some of the biggest biotech companies, popular businesses and developers with the intention of attracting people to the area.

When the towns land on “best places to live” lists, their diversity often is cited.

Cary is 67% white, 22% Asian, 8% Hispanic, and 8% Black, according to the U.S. Census. Morrisville is 40% white, 39% Asian, 12% Black and 4% Hispanic. Apex is 78% white, 8% Asian, 7% Black and 7% Hipsanic.

“Cary’s multiracial,” said Weinbrecht, a native of the town. “When I was growing up, it was two races and all I saw were white people, and African Americans would come in as service people and that was what you saw.”

Weinbrecht has been going to the Diwali festival for years, he said, becoming involved in the Indian community when his daughter was a child. Now she’s an adult.

Gilbert, an Apex native, is also proud to see the growth and multicultural make-up of the town. This is the first time Apex has been involved in the Cary celebration.

“We have a faith tradition in our town but in this regard, it’s all about people coming together,” he said. “The mayor is always seen as one who represents the town but with this, we have influence. And by us, TJ and Harold coming together, it sends that bold message that we’re here to make sure we have a welcoming community.”

If you go

Hum Sub Diwali is 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at Booth Amphitheatre, 8003 Regency Parkway.

Admission is free, but there are costs for food and vendors.

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