Published: February 9th 2006November 20th 2005
The beats and the intensity in each performer's stare.
Sweating, our backs glued to cloth, necks rubbed red, and strands of hair plastered to our foreheads. Albeit, with the fortune of the group, the late afternoon’s sun sunk nearer its horizon, shading the courtyard of the National Museum in Lagos. We were in the Federal Republic of Nigeria seated on plastic chairs, our feet sponging the crabgrass as we rested—patient, content. We waited for the showcase to begin; a showcase for us, the delegates of Global Citizen Journey.
First, our day began in the city of Lagos, the once-capital of the fifth largest country in the world. With an estimated population somewhere between 10 and 15.5 million people, making it the second largest city in Africa (Cairo being number one), we drove across town with the hoards of traffic midst a slow crawl. Buses, vans, sleek black Mercedes with chrome wheels and tinted windows, along with clunking heaps of metal, motto-bikes and foot-traffic allowed time to pass slowly. People moved in all directions, against all civil rules in what often looked like a rumble of rust parts held together by bolts and people. Despite the exodus of everyday Lagos, we reached our three-hour meeting with the precision of planning.
Hands were extended as we excitedly greeted the senior management of Chevron Nigeria Ltd., and our attentions spanned, as did the tailored wealth of their headquarter lawns.
Thoughts burrowed deep within a conscious questioning, searching for an understanding of the issues facing the oil-rich region of the Niger Delta. We heard Chevron’s proposed programs in order to meet the local’s needs, needs that have been ignored, trampled and despoiled among the multinational corporations greed for revenues and demand. Their words were professional, understood to be addressing a group of twenty philanthropic workers. They were shakers of hands, and we met theirs, grateful for the time allotted to us humble seekers. Out the security borders and gated walls, and onward to the beach off Victoria Island for a picnic under the broiler rigged with a steam-pipe. The sun was high, and once cloaked in Nigeria’s late afternoon humidity, stuck coarse with white sand, our showcase proceeded; an honorary performance of tribal dances hosted by the National Council for Arts and Culture.
As our bodies re-hydrated to the chilled bottles of Eva, and after our skin was wiped smooth with the slickness of oil, microphones screeched feedback and then
Goddess in Motion
The female body with its grace, its beauty, its flexible movement from hands to feet. Their movements were resounding with a feminine respect.
eased as performers appeared. The claps arose.
Raw. Primitive. Africa. Their dress was a gallant cover of tattered greens and whites, drab in the jungle of shade and shadow. It was black as night. And with each beat—all rhythmic undulations of palms upon pelt—the drummers juiced the notes from the bush with the strength of the coconut husk. The ensemble had their muscles taut, cutting through thick bamboo forests, and within seconds, beads of pearls glistened off their temples, leaking down onto shoulders, arms, and chest, until wrapping their deep brown skin in a glare cast off by the early evening’s light. The tissues of their force stuck out like our delegation among Lagos’s streets, and like their very own eyeballs lost within the intensity of each beat, we stared at the audacity of their play. Striking the hollow wooden gallons with thick sticks, smiling in unison with the awareness of a ritual hunt, their chants and indigenous cries performed together with an energy that drew us in. We were Americans, lost within their gaze; the music we could have never imagined. And our souls awoke to the ancient mystery of Africa. Together, we went with the flow,
moving like Her, heeding to the melody’s call: one with God, with our Creator, with the inestimable gifts of this world—the agriculture, the creatures, their primal hunt.
The song and dance praised an Almighty presence of a higher realm, and welcomed our own—our mission and purpose. As the climax rose, the atmosphere became more intense. The performers' moves, our observations and body’s rhythm; all transfixed into a spiritual reverie we were not attune to. This was Africa. This was the Federal Republic of Nigeria and its complexity. This was the heat of Lagos. And this was the music of a native tradition, reverberating into our spine, expanding our cultured nervous system—rising and ever rising—until suddenly breaking with a thud of emphasized strength.
Rhythm slowed. Drummers stood still, wrought with tension, something akin to fear.
An order was commanded by the leader. In the heat of stillness, our breaths held. Four new artists appeared from the sides of the courtyard. They each approached a drum and danced to a revived pulse. They moved through the equatorial bush onto a clearing of thick grass.
Whistles and shouts; the cries of excitement. Our western culture
Movement all around us as we stared and found ourselves caught within the grasp of indigenous art.
implemented its signs of enjoyment, while the Nigerians remained silent, calm, yet attune to the authenticity of their art.
Applauding the contrast, the arrivals were bare-chested, groins veiled with a Tarzan loin cloth. Orange and black cut the scene like lightning, and rippled legs flexed their quads like a quenched cloud filled with thunder. Each performer held their passionate solos as if a prized storm showed off its fury, one come to alleviate a drought-stricken land. And each revealed their tense skill while the others paused portraying a musical sympathy.
We heard it.
We felt it.
And once our societal minds succumbed to Nigeria’s native expression, the brown bodies before us transformed into enriched ebony. Their arms and torsos crystallized with the solidification of their musical exertion; heaving, bleeding of power, man’s force and God’s presence radiant. We sunk with the sun; the works of obsidian after the fires of volcanic heat
One performance entitled The Rhythm of Myth seemed to mystify its audience with ineffable beauty. It was an ancient tribal tradition preserved and performed with brilliance. They swung and swirled in grass dress, men and women competing with
Dancing was a mix of pumps, spins, shouts, and leaps across the grassy stage.
their sex’s tantalizing, and from outside the tease we couldn’t help but stand as darkness overcame, calling for more, cheering with ecstasy. The power, its meanings within the ingenuity, the foreign tongues of Africa’s people—each one felt within a location where consciousness supersedes beyond body and mind.
Six performances in all, each one more theatrical, more inspiring, more gallant. The showcase’s quest to enact meaning, tradition, and culture into its raw nature was superb, and each followed a different native ethnicity, serving the country’s many peoples like the Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, and others. They pounded their hearts onto the dried skins, opening its pulsating beat to provide us with the great fortune at glimpsing into a world we know least.
The cymbals and shakers. The pounding eardrums. The magic and melody. And the men and women who moved licentiously, pumping limbs, thrusting hip and waist, curving a spine with the desirous smile. Each twist, each squat and bend, the leaps, and the rolls and strides by the Ivory Ambassadors, the Edijo Dance Company, or the Gong Beat Arts and Danzodey@z became erotic, hypnotically displacing sexual tendencies and replacing it instead with an eroticism which perceives the
primitive model of the female energy suppressing its submissive counterpart. The show was Africa; raw, primitive, real in the face of its ancient rites to a rhythmic flow amidst the ebb of origin’s tide. Africa; raw, primitive, and it was real.
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