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This article by Regina Tan was prepared for the October 17, 2001
of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
African Arts Exuberance
In the Soussou language of West Guinea, "Wofa"
means "let’s go" or "come together!" Wofa! is also
the name chosen by an energetic 10-member troupe of musicians and
dancers offering works that fuse dance and percussive music. Their
show urges audiences to "come along" and share the experience
of West African culture.
Seven male percussionists and three female dancers make up Wofa. Most
of the group grew up in communities in and around Conakry, the capital
of Guinea, and have been working together since 1993. Wofa! performs
at State Theater, New Brunswick, on Wednesday, October 24. The group
appeared at the African Festival in Ivory Coast and at the 200th
Bastille Day Celebration on the Champs Elysees. And their New
show precedes the final leg of a 2001 world tour that will conclude
with appearances in Soissons, France, and the Percussion Festival
in Torino, Italy.
Guinea is unique for many reasons, says Wofa’s artistic director and
master drummer, Francois Kokelaere. And where dance is concerned,
Guinea is the only African country with more than 40 years of ballet
history. Wofa! has become known as one of the most liberal groups
in Western Africa for the way it combines traditional culture with
the contemporary presentation of the present.
In an interview conducted with the help of Wofa’s U.S. producer,
Schmidt, Kokelaere says an integral part of Guinean dance history
was the influence of the "negroid" movement. Celebrating the
unique characteristics of African artists, it helped generate a group
of performers who are confident about their identity and have no
adapting to the specific requirements of a proscenium stage theater.
Wofa! artists mix modern stagecraft and performance with a personal
vision of traditional music and dance. As Kokelaere says, the movement
"is about real African contemporary art which maintains its
as a relationship with ancestral tradition. The artists, who are
in the traditional environment by playing in popular ceremonies or
rituals, swing from one to the other" without difficulty. Their
stage performances are elements of their professional status, and
their lives are organized around rehearsals, sabars or popular
celebrations, ritual ceremonies, and performances both within Guinea
"Wofa artists have developed, in part, within that powerful
heritage and, in part also, within the traditional culture, still
very present on the Lower Coast of Guinea," says Kokelaere.
As represented by Wofa’s work, the traditional culture of the Soussou
clan involves an artistic expression that relies on the rhythms of
percussion. Wofa musicians perform on several traditional instruments
from the Lower Coast: the kryin, a wooden drum formed in the
shape of a tree trunk played with sticks; the djembe, a drum
carved from a solid block of wood with a goatskin head, hung with
small metallic bells, and played with the full hand; the
a close relative of the xylophone; and the wassakhoumba, a
set of small, graduated calabash discs, cut from dried gourds, and
strung onto a piece of curved wood.
The wassakhoumba, used in tribal initiation ceremonies, is
particularly important to ancient Baga and Sousou animist tradition.
Playing the wassakhoumba is believed to purify the area it
reaches with its sound. Children and the uninitiated were forbidden
to touch the sacred and sensitive instrument.
Wofa also incorporates the art of ballet, one of the major forces
in Guinean dance, in its work. These dances are designed to
a range of events that correlate with the ceremonies and rhythms of
life. "The artists within Wofa combine their tradition and the
reality of today’s Africa," says Kokelaere. "They have
many natural dispositions like most African musicians, as a result
of a cultural environment where music and dance are very present.
They are also professionals in that they rehearse daily and are
by a true passion and an extraordinary determination for their art
form that has pushed them to form their own autonomous group."
"The esthetic at Wofa is a whole, where each element is the result
of a thorough thinking process and subtle blending," says
"All the criteria of Guinean dance and percussion music are there,
with the qualities one knows them for: energy, spontaneity,
effects and efficiency. However, Wofa can also whisper and hush, lull
our senses, perform a movement in slow motion, command our attention
to develop a musical arrangement worthy of a symphonic orchestra and
mostly, mostly, make us dream."
— Regina Tan
Brunswick, 877-STATE-11. $16 to $22. Wednesday, October 24, 8
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