Winter 2023 In Dance

TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING… In what now looks like an age of reckless innocence, 2009 to be exact, as Obama wrestled with Wall Street and the three-headed monster of the Great Recession with a nobility that was quaint at best, deluded in truth, Nkeiruka Oruche, Tossie Long and Kola Shobo were con- juring up Bakanal de Afrique. Bakanal was a street based revelry of art and culture that celebrated the Afro-urban experience in all its raucous diversity. The reaction from their east Oakland community was immediate and explo- sive. Then came Afro-Urban Dance Experience, Gbedu Town Radio, and a whole host of classes and workshops. Suddenly there was a wild fire of programs and perfor- mances that somehow found the sweet spot between social justice, education, and pure artistic expression. With each event the word of mouth grew louder and louder. Sometimes it came with the hollering of Black American music from the 60s, Afrobeat, Soukous, Funk or Highlife. Sometimes with the waistlining hips of coupe decale, or dancehall, or ndombolo, or poppin’, or

Michael: And you told me this trip is only part of a larger project…..?

steppin,’ or boogaloo. Whatever it was and whenever it was, the hunger for it was clear; A fuse had been lit, a conversation started, and it was ‘let’s kick out the jams brothers and sisters’ all over the Bay Area! Fast forward to 2022 and blow straight past all the program developments: the design and tech fellowships, Onye Ozi, Black Box, kids camps, the ‘Notable & Noto- rious Nigerian Women’ coloring book, writing work- shops, ‘Mixtape of the Dead and Gone,’ and the creation of Afro Urban Society. Actually, let’s back up a couple of steps to Afro Urban Society for a minute. Says it all, doesn’t it: AFRO URBAN SOCIETY! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Nkeiruka, the founder and artistic director of Afro Urban Society, created the company to house the expanding pro- grams and events and give them somewhere to go, some- place to be, a home. Says it all, doesn’t it: AFRO URBAN SOCIETY! This is why in 2022 with America strug- gling to believe that ‘This is America,’ the only thing that made sense to Nkeiruka when looking out at the horizon was to pack up their bags, gather their instruments, their

promises, their hopes, their unanswered prayers, and unanswered dreams, and head 8,000 miles east to Nigeria. Says it all, doesn’t it. The only thing that made sense was a journey back to Nigeria to reconnect with the dance and Igbo 1 cultural tra- ditions of their ancestors. As with all ideas of true and spiritual

The only thing that made sense was a journey back to Nigeria to reconnect with the dance and lbgo cultural traditions of their ancestors.

Nkeiruka: Yeah, Obi-gbawara’m . The literal translation is ‘I am broken hearted,’ though my alternative title is ‘What happens when you die.’ Obi-gbwara’m is a project about learning and teaching traditional Igbo practices around death and grieving. Y’see, that’s the thing, there are some

beauty, there were others thinking the same thing, and so it was that Afro Urban Society’s travel exchange for creatives to experience Africa’s dynamic cultures was born. As Nkeiruka said, ‘A time comes when you have to Pull Up, Show Out.’ TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING AGAIN… With little more than two weeks until they step aboard their flight to Lagos, I sat down with Gbedu Town

things that can’t be told, y’know? No matter what we say or do, there are just some things that cannot be told. The artis-

tic part of the trip – the dance, the music, is almost an excuse for the spiritual part, and the spiritual part is doing the critical work of learning and documenting the Igbo practices that folks here and folks there have dis- carded or taken for granted, and you can only do that on the ground. Roshonda: I came to Afro Urban for the dance, but I always knew that it would be not just dance, that there’s more to it than that, that I’m gonna learn….. Nkeiruka: If you’re going to be a vessel for the informa- tion, a carrier, or the representation of the work, you have to cut out the middle person at some point, the translator, and have your own experience with the source. Uzo: Yeah, for me, this is the first time I’m going home with a different hat on. I’m going as an artist and I’ve been dreaming about this since I was, I dunno, since I came to this country – that someday I’ll be able to go back to Nigeria and study dance and my culture in a way that is seen as valuable. Nkeiruka: Y’see, everyone who’s coming has their own responsibilities, their own context and that’s the beauty of the project, that there’s a diverse group of experiences, ages, and relationships connected to their African sensibil- ity. We’re all going to be seeing the same thing, yet expe- riencing separate things and so you have to be there for yourself. Otherwise, by the time it comes to me, comes to you, it’s a placebo, right? Michael: Ha! That’s funny. I hear you – So, Jameelah, Roshonda, you’re the only ones that have never been to Africa, right?

Radio members Nkeiruka Oruche, Kanukai Chigamba, Ebonie Barnett, Roshonda Parker, Uzo Nwankpa, and Jameelah Lane for what is likely to be just the beginning of a very long conversation. Michael: Okay…. So, you’re going to Nigeria to reconnect with the dance and Igbo traditions of your ancestors, and I get that, makes sense, but Why now? Nkeiruka: Ohhhhh! Okaaay…. There are so many responses… I’ve reached a boiling point, both personally and in society, y’know. I’m daily thinking of the mortality of my parents. The loss of loved ones is not just about people, they also take with them the questions that you can never ask, the mysteries that you can never solve. Some of the ancestors are gone with them as well. I can’t wait another day! Right now, I don’t have anything to offer to my children. I’m too ill- equipped. I don’t have the muscle to embody ancestral ways. 1 The Igbo People are an ethnic group in Nigeria. They are primarily found in Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo States. Traditional Igbo religion includes belief in a creator god (Chukwu or Chineke), an earth goddess (Ala), and numerous other deities and spirits as well as a belief in ancestors who protect their living descendants.

Jameelah: Yeah.

Gbedu Town Radio Ensemble (L - R) Yung Phil, Kanukai Chigamba, Ebonie Barnett, Uzo Nwankpa, Moses Omolade

Michael: How does it feel to know that – and I’m going to put my word in here, that you’re finally going?


in dance WINTER 2023 20

WINTER 2023 in dance 21

In Dance | May 2014 |

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