Last Friday and Saturday nights, the Zambezi Marimba Band and African dance group Kusika teamed up to give their last shows of the year on the MainStage of the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, in a performance entitled Pavement! The show’s theme, liberation and its different forms of expression, was featured in Kusika’s choreography as well as transition pieces between dances. As a result, the night was heavier than most of the audience had anticipated but made for an interesting and creative twist on the African art we came to know from Zambezi and Kusika in the fall.
Zambezi started off the show with four lively numbers, incorporating a wide variety of instruments into their arrangement in addition to their usual xylophones, mbira and drums, including vocals and acoustic guitar as well as the less traditional calabash. The musicians interacted with the audience, inviting them to clap along with the beat and form a vital accompaniment to their percussion section, and pleasantly surprised the crowd with their rendition of the familiar melody of “Danza Kuduro.”
Zambezi collaborated with Kusika for their last two pieces. The ladies of Kusika emerged from off-stage carrying large bowls that sounded like they were full through the sound effects of shakers strategically attached to the dancers’ legs in a clever costume trick. The clear depiction of a story and purpose behind the dance, the beautiful costumes the dancers wore and an element of humor slipped in at the end, made for a wonderful introduction to the group.
Next, the music of a guitar and cello duet filled the auditorium, and the entire Kusika troupe took the stage wearing unusual costumes inspired by the Victorian Age. In a brilliant piece of oratory, one performer stood on a small platform and delivered Frederick Douglas’s famous speech calling for equal rights for black citizens of the United States. Simultaneously, the rest of Kusika engaged with a performer dressed as Douglas in a depiction of his life.
Following a short piece by the Kusika dancers and percussion section, the projector took the spotlight with a short video montage blending together poignant quotations about freedom and stirring clips of African Americans expressing their opinions on discrimination against women and African Americans.
All of Kusika took the stage again, but this time the dancers were dressed in colorful bodysuits and running in slow motion – the choreography represented trail blazers throughout history breaking the “glass ceiling” referred to in the video clip. Immediately before the intermission, Kusika percussion played traditional African rhythms while the dancers, clad in similarly traditional outfits, formed a circle and took turns performing solos and duets, exhibiting their individual talents and personalities.
The intermission was followed by a longer video looking back at the civil rights movement. This was juxtaposed with the dancers who came on stage wearing ordinary jeans and plaid shirts, with one girl carrying the American flag and dancing with it.The lighting mimicked the shadows the bars of a prison cell would make and a pair of minimalist cells were created side-by-side. Screens projected a movie similar to that before the intermission, this time concerning discrimination in prisons.
The Antoine Roney Trio performed a delightful jazz piece, and many were impressed by the sheer talent of a cameo appearance by a little boy who switched on and off with the regular musician on the drums. While they played, two Kusika members danced behind the jail cell bars until they rose, and silhouettes of two women were seen as the story of a cousin’s unjust murder was recited in the background. Jazz, African dance, percussion and film were not the only forms of communication Pavement! used to depict liberation. They also had performers recite a speech in languages including English, French, Mandarin, Sign Language, Patois and Swahili.
The performance closed with an interactive sign language lesson. The audience enthusiastically repeated orally and in sign the sentences “We’re talking about freedom,” “We’re talking about change” and “We’re talking about revolution,” as the leaders of the groups attempted to “awaken the fighting spirit within.” The songs and dances performed by Zambezi and Kusika were beautifully done and were definitely the highlight of the show. Overall, the performance consistently held the crowd’s attention and reminded us of a discussion about discrimination that is important for the College community at large.