6/15/24 O&A NYC DANCE REVIEW: DanceAfrica 47

By Walter Rutledge

Memorial Day weekend maybe the unofficial start of summer, but in the Fort Green section of Brooklyn that weekend was the official start of DanceAfrica 47! The four-day festival celebrates the diverse cultures of Africa and their diasporic descendants. The area surrounding the historic Brooklyn Academy of Music was transformed into the DanceAfrica Bazaar- a global marketplace. The bazaar features over one hundred and fifty vendors from around the world, offering African, Caribbean, and African American food, crafts, and fashion.

The streets were alive. Drummers summoned young dancers to converge on the plaza for an informal dance off. We were visually overwhelmed by the colorful beads, Ankara fabric in bold patterns, jewelry, paintings, and wood carvings. The aroma of Soul food, Trinidad Roti, Senegal Jollof rice, Down home barbecue, and Jamaican Jerk Chicken were just a few of the culinary delights tempting our palettes. This cultural crossroad of Diasporic energy created the perfect setting around the festival’s crown jewel- the dance concert presented on the main stage of the Howard Gilman Opera House.

This glossary is to assist individuals who might not know with some of the terms, instruments and facts about DanceAfrica and African history, traditions and culture. 


Ago– “are you listening?”

Amee- “yes I’m listening and quiet”

Ancestors- In the African world and the cosmological view of life our ancestors are forever alive. Ancestors connect Africans to their beloved ones, and intervene when order, happiness, health and life are threatened.

Baba means “father” in many of the African languages in southern Africa, with a connotation of respect attached to a highly valued social role and age.

Cameroon, officially the Republic of Cameroon, is in Central Africa and is considered the crossroads between West Africa and Central Africa. Its nearly 27 million people speak 250 native languages, in addition to the national tongues of English and French, or both.






Calabash a traditional magic pot that represents the cosmic womb. Inside it, we add ingredients to direct our intentions to that which we want to “birth to life”. It is a vessel of mystical, practical, and cultural significance.




caxixi- A percussion instrument consisting of a closed basket with a flat bottom filled with seeds or other small particles. The round bottom is traditionally cut from a dried gourd.




Hoshos- The hosho are Zimbabwean musical instruments consisting of a pair of maranka gourds with seeds. They are used as major instruments in many traditional Shona music genres




Libations– a liquid offering by and on behalf of all humanity, those living and those yet-to-be-born, to ancestors, to the Creator, to other divinities, and to the environment.




mbira- a plucked idiophone that is unique to Africa and widely distributed throughout the continent






Nana- may be associated with qualities like wisdom, leadership, and respect due to its use as a title for elders or leaders

 Shekere-a Yoruba percussion instrument consisting of a dried gourd with beads or cowries woven into a net covering the gourd. The Shekere originated in Yorubaland, which comprises the countries of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.




Stilt-walkers– African and Diasporic territ, masked stilt-walkers are sacred guardians that bridge the ancestral spirit world and our earthly present; they ensure discipline is maintained and traditions are upheld and can heal the sick or troubled. 

Yoruba is a language that is spoken in West Africa, primarily in Southwestern and Central Nigeria. It is spoken by the ethnic Yoruba people.

DanceAfrica 2024: The Origins of Communities/ A Calabash of Culture celebrated the rich ancestral heritage and the present-day artistry of Cameroon. Artistic Director Abdel Salaam has created an event that is as entertaining as it was informative/educational. In true DanceAfrica style the production started with ceremony. a processional that greeted the audience with a rousing welcome.

The DanceAfrica Candle Bearers under the direction of Hanan Hameen and The Billie’s Youth Arts Academy Dance Ensemble, Karen Thornton Artistic Director; filled the orchestra level aisles with candle carrying dancers clad in white as the elders entered and were seated in the front row. The ceremony continued with the libation offered by Nana Kofi Osei Williams, he acknowledged many of the ancestors who had helped pave the way to DanceAfrica 47.

Baba Abdel greeted the audience, “Ago” and the house responded “Amee. In his opening remarks he shared his adventure traveling to the Dja Faunal Reserve, a southeast Cameroon rainforest in Yaounde. Mud clogged roads, fire ants and the adjustment to rural community life had all the making of an Indiana Jones adventure. Sharing this incredible experience set the tone for the evening, in fact, the entire well-crafted 90-minute one act production was about shared experiences.

We are immediately whisked to the Dja Faunal Reserve just in time to see Dyane Harvey and Timeteo Bishop LeGrange board a raft. The two men with poles propelling the raft and its occupants peacefully downstream visually was dance theater perfection. Our destination, a clearing in the rainforest, was a sensory treat due to the collaborative efforts of set designer Jasiri AU Kafele, lighting designer Al Crawford, and David Margolin Lawson sound designer. After some initial exploration Harvey falls asleep (this reminded me of the Tamara Karsavina role in Spectre de la Rose) under some lush flora downstage right.

The clearing soon fills with the DanceAfrica Spirit Walkers. These performers are a division of Forces of Nature Dance Theatre and alumni of the Restoration Youth Theater under the direction of choreographer/artistic director Abdel Salaam. The tranquility was interrupted by an explosion of audience pleasing dance passages. When Harvey awakes the Calabash has been placed by her side. LeGrange and Harvey reboard the raft and make their way downstream towards the next adventure.

The all-female music quartet, featuring Joan Ashley, Caren Calder-Adams, Carole Caru Thompson and Susan Rapalee, has been known for almost half a century as Women of The Calabash soon entered the clearing. The group performed four selections using traditional percussive instruments including the mbira, shekere, hoshos and caxixi: with vocal accompaniment performed in several languages including Yoruba (Nigeria/West Africa) and Shona (a Bantu language of Zimbabwe).

Their performance encapsulated the use of polyrhythms- the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms. A musical attribute synonymous with African music and dance. Polyrhythms are found in all African and cultures of the Diaspora and has left its mark on every American music artform from jazz and gospel to country and rock and roll music.  

To paraphrase Napoleon Bonaparte, “a good general can change his battle plan in the heat of the battle”. And when the dance group from Cameroon was unable to secure visas for all its members that’s just what Baba Abdel had to do. Mafor Mambo Tse the Artistic Director of the Cameroon dance company Siren—Protectors of The Rainforest stepped up to fill the void.

The seven-member dance ensemble performance included a drum interlude by Nyemba Seales, Talu Green, Pa Ngwa and Isaiah Powell, a percussion coda provided by Women of The Calabash and a finale featuring the Billie’s Youth Arts Academy Dance Ensemble. The highlight of the performance was female stilt walker Sarauniya.  A third-generation performer from the New Orleans region of coastal Louisiana, Sarauniya is another example of the reach and indelible influence of Mother Africa on both North and South America. The group’s timely message of preserving the endangered rainforest should remain as part of our eco-mantra.

The program closed with a final crescendo of dancing featuring all the performers and brief acknowledgements from Baba Abdel. This group ending illustrated the concept of community. It was obvious that a great deal of consideration had gone into this extremely focused and well edited program. The entire production including the open and closing remarks fit very nicely into the 90-minute audience friendly format.

Even the usually loquacious, yet always extremely personable Baba Abdel (like your favorite uncle during the holidays), was surprisingly succinct while remaining no less informative. DanceAfrica continues its forty-seven-year legacy established by Artistic Director Emeritus and Founding Elder Baba Chuck Davis. The objective remains; to educate, illuminate and simply share the wonders of the African diaspora and its lasting and continued effect on world history and culture. Under the stewardship of Abdel Salaam, the legacy continues to flourish.


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