It’s a collaboration of cultures — and college classes.
On Thursday, four classes — Africana Studies/Theater 229: Beginning African Dance, Africana Studies/Theater 329: Advanced African Dance, Africana Studies188B/ Music 144: Intro to African Drumming and Music Performance 257A: African Music Ensemble — will collaborate for the biannual Nukporfe African Drumming and Dance Ensemble performance.
“Nukporfe” is a Ghanian word that means “seeing is believing.” Music Department Chair James Burns, who teaches African Music Ensemble, founded the Nukporfe ensemble in 2006 and now acts as a co-director for the event. The African Music Ensemble is the official name of the class, but the group is also known as Nukporfe; during its history, the names have been used interchangeably.
“Our group builds on the strong African and Caribbean heritages represented among the students, staff and faculty of BU by teaching about important cultural traditions from these regions in a way that encourages group cohesion, understanding of diverse perspectives and artistic fulfillment,“ Burns said.
For the African Music Ensemble and this event, Burns collaborates with the show’s other co-director, professor Samuel Elikem Kwame Nyamuame, who also teaches the beginning and advanced African dance classes as well as the African drumming class. Nyamuame is from Ghana, and the majority of the dances that will be performed originate from Ghana and Papua New Guinea.
The classes that he teaches allow students to explore the cultures behind the dance while learning the choreography.
“[Nyamuame] makes sure that when he teaches the dance you’re not just learning the movement, you’re learning where the dance came from, how it originated and how people back in the day used to dance it,” said Uchenna Okpalor, a teaching assistant for Nyamuame and a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience.
A typical semester begins with learning simple steps, then these steps become part of the warmup as students gradually build on them to learn more complex routines throughout the semester.
“[Nyamuame] is a great teacher, and really fun and laid-back,” Okpalor said. “Sometimes at the end of a dance routine we’ll get in a circle and he’ll tell us to just dance it out. There’s definitely a sense of community.”
The classes are featured in several performances throughout the semester. The venues vary, and this past spring they included performances in the Oakdale Mall and Tabernacle United Methodist Church. The final collective Nukporfe event is an end-of-semester tradition.
According to Okpalor, the event draws a lot of former Nukporfe performers, as well as African dance groups from other schools and community members that are interested in African culture. The traditional dances in Thursday’s performance will be performed in handmade African costumes that are donated by community members and Nyamuame himself. Additionally, the drums that the drumming class will use are all hand crafted, and authentic to the musical styles being performed.
The event is a celebration of collaboration: dancers from the dance classes, drummers from the drumming class and the Nukporfe ensemble from the ensemble class will come together for this performance.
“We aim to represent the music traditions as they occur in their original context, where drumming and dancing occur within a larger performance environment that also includes choral singing, costume, symbolic gestures and a deep connection with social life,” Burns said.
The show is at 7:30 p.m. in the Anderson Center’s Watters Theater and will last around 90 minutes with a 20-minute intermission. Admission is $7 for general admission, $5 for faculty, staff, alumni and seniors and free for students.