Drumfolk18 - Jim Saah.jpg
Choreography by Jakari Sherman, David Pleasant, Jeeda Barrington and Mfoniso Akpan.
When Africans lost the right to use their drums, the drum found its way into the body of the people. Acclaimed Folk Artist Bessie Jones called them the “Drumfolk:” a people who created rhythm with their bodies, giving rise to new American movement practices like ring shout, tap, hambone and stepping.
In the Wilderness
Choreography by Dustin Praylow and Ronnique Murray. Djembe by Yao Adu.
Under the cover of night enslaved Africans often risked their lives to gather for secret meetings and to plan acts of resistance. These gatherings often took place in a “praise house,” a building of no more than 150 square feet, and one of the only places where Africans were able to congregate in groups. Women often played a very important role in organizing such meetings across the South.
The work includes music and lyrics from “All Africa” by Max Roach, “In de Wildaness” composed and recorded by Steven M. Allen and lyrics based on “A Plantation Melody” by Paul Laurence Dunbar.
Choreography by Jakari Sherman, Jordan Spry, Mfoniso Akpan, and Júlio Leitão.
The Stono Rebellion, an uprising initiated by 20 enslaved Africans, is one of many large-scale confrontations where tyrannized communities challenged their persecutors. The Rebellion began near the Edisto River in South Carolina on September 9, 1739. About 20 Africans raided a store near Wallace Creek, a branch of the Stono River. Seizing guns and other weapons, the rebels headed south towards a promised freedom in Spanish Florida, waving flags, beating drums and shouting “Liberty!”
As they marched, many colonists were killed, and the rebellion numbers grew from 20 to approximately 100. Once the rebels reached the Edisto River, even more colonists descended upon them and the revolt was defeated. After Stono, South Carolina authorities moved to greatly restrict the lives and culture of Africans in the colonies, leading to the Negro Act of 1740.
Choreography by Jakari Sherman with contributions from Jeeda Barrington, Conrad Kelly II, and Dustin Praylow.
The Negro Act of 1740 prohibited enslaved Africans from growing their own food, learning to read, moving freely, assembling in groups, or earning money. Africans also lost the right to use and play their drums.
Un/Afraid responds to this historically impactful code of law through the lens of 21st Century American culture. While the drum was physically taken away hundreds of years ago, art forms like beatboxing, hip hop and stepping demonstrate how the instrument retained a significant space in the lives of African-Americans.
The work includes “Ezekiel Saw de Wheel Performed by Tuskegee Institute Choir, and Arranged and conducted by William L. Dawson and ‘Nxt/Step Hip Hop” composed and recorded by Jakari Sherman.
Choreography by J. Sherman.
Stepping is an art form whose origins have been in question since the very beginning. Free centers the art form firmly on American shores but welcomes back the drum, the stamping stick and the rhythms shaped by the Africans who first arrived here in 1619 (and before!).
Though the drum was taken away and labeled a tool for insurrection, the instrument has been reclaimed through generations of music and dance traditions nurtured in African American communities for over 400 years.
“They took the drums away ... but they could not stop the beat.” - Dr. David Pleasant