Step Afrika! kicks of ArtsEmerson’s season with their triple threat of a show: Drumfolk. Drumfolk is the most energetic performance I have ever seen and that energy is contagious. The talent of the Drumfolk cast is unparalleled. The musicians, dancers, singers, and steppers of Drumfolk bring their own connection to dance, stepping, and their history in this country. Stepping is a powerful sisterhood/brotherhood that, as an outsider feels like a privilege to witness. I definitely feel honoured to have been invited to witness Drumfolk.
I can’t review the show as one performance because each element: the music, the movement and the message deserve undivided attention. I found myself focusing on different performers throughout the show from beat boxer to dancer to drummer and back just trying to not miss a beat.
Drums, percussive instruments (including the human body), singers, and a beat boxer are the soundtrack to this show. While the ensemble pieces were the most room rousing, some of my favourite musical moments were the duets. One was between a drummer and singer; the voices of each speaking to one another back and forth told a story beyond the words of the song. The duet spoke to the power of the beat. The whole show highlighted the power of that beat with or without the drums which were taken from slaves by law in the 1700s. The other duets were between beat boxer and Grammy-nominated progressive hip-hop artist Christylez Bacon and a dancer. In this case the voice becomes the percussive beat onto which the movement is layered. You had to try hard to remember in those moments that the sounds being danced to were those of the human voice and not any other percussion instrument.
Drumfolk takes us back to the time in our country when Africans were slaves and whites were slave owners and those who were not still benefitted from the system of oppression. It was a time of horrible injustice and the ultimate abuse of power among humans stripping slaves of so much but not of everything. Black power and resilience was stoked in tiny praise houses where, despite having their drums taken from them, the beat continued on with the slap of their feet against the soil, the clap of hard working hands together, the thump of hands on chests, and the drumfolk were born. So much of dance and music in the world and in our popular culture harkens back to those same roots.
Stepping is not something I grew up around. (I’m not sure how prevalent it is in Canada nor have I been exposed to it much in the Northeast). My introduction to stepping was on tv and in films. Most recently, I’ve delved more deeply into where dance is rooted with the Netflix series Move which I love. I was drawn to stepping instantly on screen but, like so much else, there is nothing like seeing it live. The energy is incredible. The power in those bodies on stage had to be carrying the energy and vibrations from all those before them and all those around them to be able to move with such force, electricity and passion not letting up for a single breath. It was exciting to witness, beautiful to watch, and Step Afrika!’s Drumfolk awakens something deep inside you, the audience member, no matter how you personally connect to the experience represented on stage, you will feel it.
History repeats itself. It is really hard to face the world we are living in when we see how much is broken and how often we seem to repeat the same mistakes. History is not some old dusty story that sits bound in a book telling of some distant life. It is embedded in so much of our lives. It is the broken foundation upon which we all stand. Slavery is abolished in this country but the inequity rooted in those times is woven into every aspect of life in this country still. There is hope and progress, but we are far from evolved. It is hard to feel hopeful, but then again, these slaves gathered in praise houses. They were praising something, someone, somehow despite the most horrible time in their existence. For every one thing taken from them, another thing was born. There is so much that we have in this country in our culture and pop culture, in our music and in our dance that we owe to this resilience and resistance.
The performance teaches us little snippets of history that are not highlighted enough in our history classes despite slow (very very way too slow) “progress”. It left me asking so many questions from the gorgeous hay/spirit costume and who those people were and what they represented to some of the language and stories told and where they were rooted.
The simple clear historic messages were easy to follow and I carry them with me, and I also have many tabs open in my mind with questions I will seek answers to. I take with me, the energy, joy and pure power of the performance as well as this newly insatiable curiosity which will take me to books, websites, people, and stories to expand my understanding of this country’s people and our shared history.
Drumfolk is playing at Emerson’s Cutler Majestic Theatre through October 16th 2022.
Tickets for Drumfolk performances may be purchased 24/7 at ArtsEmerson.org, or by calling 617-824-8400 (Tue-Sat from 12:00PM ET – 6:00PM ET).
The Paramount Center Box Office (559 Washington Street, Boston) is open for walk-up service Thu-Sat from Noon – 6:00 PM ET. Tickets start at $25. Groups of 10+ attending a performance save up to 30%.
Thanks to generous support from Rockland Trust, a limited number of $10 Mobile Rush tickets will be available at 10:00 AM ET each performance day on a first-come, first-served basis, exclusively through the TodayTix mobile app. For more information, please click on “General Public” when you visit ArtsEmerson’s Offers web page.
Recommended for All Ages