Step-Afrika! and How We Are The Drumfolk

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By Jacob M. Rominger

In a moving homage and celebration of the African-American story in the United States, Step Afrika!: Drumfolk, connects the modern practices of beatboxing and hip hop to the Stono slave revolt and the related importance of drum beats to the culture of those persons who, once held in bondage, risked everything for a chance at freedom and justice.

A children’s program ahead of the stage.

The performance aimed to relate African-American struggles under the bondage of slavery to a greater sense of the American mythos. In dialogue patterns, the performers detailed infamous Black Codes that targeted them and the great insult they imposed on the wronged people, no greater symbolism than in the stealing and banning of drums amongst their persons. The Stono rebellion took place decades before American independence, but its consequences ringed for centuries after into a United States that, founded on Liberty, ultimately failed to extend these ideals after independence. 

As if in effort to make tangible this connection, the performers included the audience in their performance, encouraging us to clap along to beats and participate in callbacks, making in some small way real a sense of common community and common continuity in the struggle to shape a Freedom-loving nation. This combination of heavy, violent themes including warbands and executions compared to joyous dancing and singing created something of a tonal issue for me. The ending of the performance inspired indignation at a horrible past but the followup post-show of dancings and callbacks were meant to lift the mood. I was not in any mood to celebrate by such a point.

The main stage, note the drums flanking the centerpiece. The players were in a native-African garb likely representing an ancestral connection for the enslaved persons.

Evocative of Stomp, the music was led primarily by the dancers themselves to guide the story. However, it was much more like a musical than a ballet, as dialogues to the audience or lyrics were readily used. The aim is to show how taking away drums from the enslaved communities did not stop them from engaging with 'the beat' through clapping and stomping. As with the aforementioned audience engagement, the performers asked even the audience to identify with this pattern of resistance against injustice by calling themselves 'the drumfolk' just as the performers on stage were. This crossing of racial lines by a Black cast to a largely White audience was not lost on me and much appreciated. 

I chose to pass up a pre-show dinner this time around and returned to the cafe for a beer and slice of cake for the much-needed 20 minute intermission. The cake slice I was given was comically large and I threw half of it away before the show started. It was not fresh either, my own fault for asking for it so late in the evening. The beer, however, was delicious. 

I sure wish I could have bought a half-size slice of cake.

When I first went into the show-room, I asked one of the attendants for a program she was holding. My neighbors proceeded to ask me how I got one and informed them how I curiously had to ask for it. It was not until I investigated did I discover it was clearly designed for children and I must have looked quite silly to the attendant when I asked for it.

Sincerely,

Jacob M. Rominger

There was some kind of dance floor setup outside afterwards. I have no idea when or why, as nobody was dancing.


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