African performers dance away back-to-school blues

Maobong Oku teaches audience members traditional Kakoma dancing. PHOTO BY JESSICA WALLACE

Jessica Wallace– Arts & Entertainment Editor:

The Alumni Theatre was full this past Thursday when Kokoma, Vancouver’s African heritage dance and drum ensemble, shared their talents with TRU.

“Nobody likes to dance in Kamloops?” Maobong Oku, the founder and leader of Kokoma, asked while encouraging an interactive cultural event.

“I want to see people who want to get down and boogie with me,” Oku said.

At first, people were nervous to participate, but Oku managed to convince the audience to join her.  Several people, including a young girl, opened up and enjoyed learning the traditional dance.  The energy and passion that Oku emitted was ultimately what coerced the shy audience members from their seats.

As she demonstrated the dances she learned from the Efik tribe of her hometown of Calabar, Nigeria, Oku seemed genuinely proud to be sharing a piece of herself.

The group’s name is attributed to the dance and music style called Kokoma.

Kokoma music primarily consists of percussion and chanting and has been passed down through generations. Unique drums include: Ekomo (kongas), Obodom (tree trunk), Nkong (bells), Nsak (shekere) and the talking drum.  Kokoma is traditionally used for healing and to uplift its audience.  During its TRU performance, it seemed to do just that.

The tempo of the drumming can be fast-paced or slow and sensual, but generally the movements in this dance style are very quick and short.  The entire body is used—ankles twist, legs kick, arms throw and heads swing, while bodies sway, dip and twirl.

The interactive show was interesting from start to finish.

 “We are not going to entertain you today, we are going to play with you,” Oku said as she stepped onto the stage with her son Eteka George, as well as friends Yoro Noukoussi, Salle Bangura, and Kesseke Yeo at the beginning of the show.

Together for 12 years, the group of 5 dancers, singers and drummers brought culture to TRU with traditional African music and dance.

Their immediate presence was bright and cheerful and their costumes— traditional to southeastern Nigeria—consisted of bright prints, while the girls embellished their faces and legs with body paint.  Shells, beads and headbands complimented the printed outfits.  Along with the costumes, the performers were wearing grins that didn’t fade once during the show.

The interactive performance had Oku encouraging people to move when the music spoke to them and contribute to the music by clapping and singing some of the lyrics.  To do this, Oku taught the audience lyrics before the song started.  She teased the crowd when they struggled to pronounce the words of the Efik language.

There was a passion on stage that was felt in the theater.  Kokoma’s stage presence was so positive that it was evident how much the ensemble loved what they were doing.

For more information about Kokoma and to listen to a sample of their music, visit www.maobongoku.com.