Sunday, June 03, 2007

African Performance Arts for youth

Today Stephanie, Marissa and Kadi performed at the GCDF Youth moves. All three are steady dancers: Stephanie pays attention to the execution of the choreography and is responsible for the others in this regard. Marissa is very natural as a dancer and full of improvisations and Kadi is more introspective and more subtle as a dancer. In their diverse ways they give a lot to each other in performance. After our second performance today, it was Kadi the more reluctant dancer who had an idea for the next choreography. She surprised me in this regard as sometimes I have wondered whether she likes the stage.

I really think that people of African descent have a penchant for the performing arts. Now I know that's a generalization but it is a good one and if more people are discovering that this is not so, it must be the westernization and urbanization which is overunning our world. This is not all bad because the western block-buster approach to everything: big stages, big films, celeb bands and superstars have woken up the world to know that it is possible even if hard to make a great living out of the arts. How important for those who are born with this gift of healing and community, or healing for the community. How great for the community.

As a child I began to learn the traditional dances of Africa at age eleven. I had ofcourse watched, heard and observed all this from early childhood but I must confess that my first memories of dance, were doing the twist to "My boy lolipop," when I imitated my older siblings. Then I remember trying the 'bugaloo' and the 'pop corn' all of which I learned from teen aged older siblings. By the time I was twelve my sister and I were winning dance competitions held at birthday parties because we had older siblings to learn all the cool moves from. Then at the end of elementary school my school introduced my graduating class to African dance. I fell at once and completely in love with it.

If one learned to dance then one wanted to be watched. One courted the eyes of the audience. This ofcourse gave birth to that love for performance, acknowledgement and praise. No wonder in the courts of the traditional rulers and at all community functions, people from very young to very old want to strut their stuff to the praise of the community. In West Africa, performance results in much applause and the spraying of money: coins and notes placed on the forehead of the dancer, drummer, poet or singer. In my parents day, English colonial mentality prohibited all the school goers who were pursuing education from joining in the community arts of dance, song, and drumming. They missed out on their rich cultural heritage. Until today my Mom envies those who can articulate the graceul dance of the Akans, (the adowa) at funerals and festivals. She can only pretend to dance it.

In Africa the arts are functional: binding , motivating and healing to the community. The arts are also participatory with a place for everyone. Voice, expression as well as release is available to everyone in very accessible spaces.
My argument: Why not use the traditonal arts and its more contemporary and emerging forms to engage youth, to give voice, expression, healing and belonging to a whole new generation.


Anonymous said...

the word 'Sankofa' comes to mind: "returning to the past imaginatively as well as factually in order to live in the present and to move forward".
the challenge is to let African youth recognise the treasure they have in their own traditional art form rather than blindly embracing art forms from afar.
Perhaps it is those from afar who will show the way back for the African youth and cry aloud "sankofa:!

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that the youth today are far more in tune with contemporary african music ; hilife and hiplife are more popular than in our day .

Anonymous said...

yes thats true. in my day we embraced western pop rather than highlife. so it is a positive. but what about the real traditional stuff? we do not see the value yet. look like we will only see the value when someone else does and starts making money from it!

Nysa said...

Well said.