Imagine a place where people gather from all around the World, dedicating their hearts, souls and bodies for a time of celebration in Dance. It is a time of honoring our the ones who came before us, our Ancestors, being greeting by the Elders of the day, smiling and dancing beneath a Jamaican sky from sunrise to sunset. The dance, an expression daily life, ritual and roots of African and the African Diaspora in a channel for the Divine to flow through the body in remembrance of what has always existed within. It's hard to say precisely where one derives from, even having taken a genealogy test, as nations and tribes have spread out, migrated and separated since before the passage of Slaves to a new land..... but here, at the Jamaican-African Festival one can identity with whichever captures the soul and frees the SPIRIT most. This is the fourth annual conference, this year it's being held in Ocho Rios St. Anns Bay at the Mammee Estates.
There is not use for being shy here, no sense of trying to hide. You are welcomed by the warmth and vibrance of Sage Women whose feet beat the ground to the sound of the Djembe drum and cow bell plays. At the top each hour beginning at 9 AM a class is held, led and taught in such styles as: Mali Dance, West African, Congolese, Jonkanoo, Jamaican Folk Dances, Doum Doum Dance, Djembe Drumming, Yoga, Afro Zumba and Hip Hop. This year, GYROKINESISⓇ is added to the run down of things and was taught at 8 AM for the early risers. A family affair, the children are invited to join in the festivities and learn alongside their parents the way of life through these expressions. The dance brings to life the ceremonial customs symbolizing the human experience from such places as the Congo, Togo, the Americas and the Caribbean. It's a beautiful thing to see different bodies, colors, shapes, sizes, heights and gender moving amidst each other for the same cause: Liberation.
Handmade jewelry, dashiki, African fabric/wear, and original styled clothing are sold in support of the local and Black-owned businesses both from here and afar.
The activities are made to be fun, and leave a lifelong impression that can shape your view and understanding of the Diaspora culture. The very first engagement takes place on the lawn. The festival has a whole plot of land for use of festivities including 3-building which makes up the villa. In a circle dancers begin with a ritualistic libation--the washing of hands, face and limbs with White Rum. The head Master/Leader blesses the drums with a swig and spat of the alcohol on each one"...as performed by the Ancestors", he says. The dancing is a percussive, groovy and to each and everyone's own style with the guidance of codified steps as shown by head Masters assistant, a young female dancer and teacher.
Right away the inhibition is lost and partnering with other dancers/movers comes with ease. I, the photographer find myself a nice little tree trunk to plant myself on to observe, support and marvel at the Magic that is quickly evolving into a circle of trust. The trunk is small and painted white. I wonder if it has any significance. *see photos below
The day fills up and more participants arrive. The sound resounds all throughout the Estate and everyone knows that there is something meaningful is taking place. Friends, Familiars and townspeople come in to join the festivities bringing a jubilant expectancy to match the Energy. The thing about dance is that it's uplifting, encouraging and makes you feel like you can do anything even if you feel you can't. Bystanders, are healed by the melodious vibrations of undulating bodies moving in space. And all Inspired.
The festival serves as an outreach program to local Jamaican Youth. The head women and organizers Sophia Newman and Amaniyea invited Steertown High Preparation School for a visit. There they took Hip-Hop classes with MUNTU Dance Theatre and traditional African dance too. What began as timid shy foot students quickly turned in the time of their life. The young teachers challenged them to exercise their inner confidence, improvisation, flow and freedom through dance....finishing off with a pool party. They didn't even bring swimwear! They just took off their clothes and landed themselves in the Water.
Such a GREAT time. With more times to come...
|Jamaican Folk Dance|
Trust in Relationships.
|Young Drummer Boy immersed in the Dance.|
|Teaching the young ones early on.|
|Vibrant colors, bright head wraps and striking colors.|
|West African class in the Water|
|Hands clasped, raised high as they chant Peace, Love + Respect for everybody.|
|Amaniyea teaching class|
|Dance Battle between the Girls|
|Dancer from Heritage Works Detroit facing off a female high school student|
|The Head Girl of the students even let loose a bit and joined in the fun. *not photographed but was present*|
|Line of Drummer Men Preparing for the dance|