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Traditional West African Performance At Garfield Park Conservatory

2/28/2018, noon | Updated on 2/28/2018, noon
“The performance is Amazing African and it is based on West African drumming and dancing and acrobatic style dancing. It ...
The Garfield Park Conservatory hosted a performance of traditional West African dancing and drumming in honor of Black History Month. The performance, called Amazing Africa, was presented by Urban Gateways and was designed to expose viewers to West African culture and to emphasize the theme of unity and empowerment. Photo Credit: Urban Gateways

Traditional West African Performance At Garfield Park Conservatory

By: Katherine Newman

The Garfield Park Conservatory hosted a performance of traditional West African dancing and drumming in honor of Black History Month. The performance, called Amazing Africa, was presented by Urban Gateways and was designed to expose viewers to West African culture and to emphasize the theme of unity and empowerment.

“The performance is Amazing African and it is based on West African drumming and dancing and acrobatic style dancing. It features one male dancer in several performances in addition to the drumming and music.

All of the traditions come from the West African regions, Ghana, Senegal, and that area,” said Claire Meyers, performance program associates at Urban Gateways.

The style of music and dancing seen in this performance became popular during the Manding Empire, according to Meyers. An informational flyer provided by Urban Gateways

gave detailed information about the rise of the about the Manding Empire.

“At its height, the Manding Empire controlled three regions—the Senegal region, the Gao region, and the Central Mande states—making it as large as modern day Europe. The Manding Empire was known for its wealth and influence. The interior of West Africa was

characterized as an area of dense forests, mountains, savannahs, and desert; but the Manding Empire managed to make the area profitable, becoming among the first to cultivate and weave cotton. King Sundjata made the empire even more powerful by controlling the mining of West African gold and monopolizing its trade with the Arabs across the Sahara.

The great Manding Empire (also known as the Mali Empire) existed as early as 1000 A.D., but did not come into power until the 1200s on the strength of its founder Sundjata. A former royal magician and slave, Sundjata reigned over the Manding Empire from 1230-1255,” as stated in the Urban Gateways informational flyer.

The performance went back and forth between the lone dancer moving to the rhythm of the drums and the drummers engaging the audience with inspiring stories and proverbs from West Africa.

“When the dancer is out there dancing he wears this really beautiful native attire and masks. All of his dance is very acrobatic with jumps and flips and kicks. In-between

those performances the two drummers remain onstage and talk about the culture and where the traditions came from as well as interweave these messages of unity and

empowerment that are really important to these artists themselves and speak to the culture

which they are originally from,” said Meyers.

The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance (GPCA) has a mission of connecting people to plants, according to Mattie Wilson, sustainability and adult programs manager for GPCA. Wilson explained that this performance overlaps to meet two of their February goals, celebrating Black History month and exploring ethnobotany.

“February is Black History month, but its also when we like to highlight other connections to ethnobotany, that’s where culture meets plants basically. We are in a neighborhood that’s primarily African American so having these types of programs here is important for us to draw in the community, but also providing a space for these types of performances is important to us,” said Wilson.

If you missed the performance, you can still explore the several varieties of African plants housed inside of the Garfield Park Conservatory. African plants will have a sticker shaped like the continent of African to indicate their native homes, according to Wilson.