“It’s not just a music, it’s a MOVEMENT” – Wumni
When WUMNI took the stage at THE KNITTING FACTORY on June 3rd around midnight, the energy of holy space had been raised. The audience had experienced the presence of a Queen, NAVASHA DAYA, vocalist with FERTILE GROUND, who brought us “BE NATURAL” – a prayer to our inner spirits — with lyrics I could relate to … and not just because of my “do”:
“You are closer to flawless, because evolution is the only form of perfection I’ve ever encountered…”
“Hey mister, did you say something, ‘bout my hair?
Why stare? Why do you care?
It’s my only prayer
Without it I’d be bare
A fire with no flare to bear the heat that nature gave me”
“If you listen to the lessons I’m trying to teach, your grasp will exceed your reach
Just let go of your leash
Take those shackles off your feet
I guarantee you’ll be free and happier
“if you think that life is more than a fashion show
If you think it’s not who but what you know
If your spirit moves like a river flows ….”
This concert, THE CONTINUING LEGACY OF AFROBEAT presented by KNITTING FACTORY AFROBEAT FESTIVAL & WUMNIGIRL was a night filled with the very highest form of dance music: vibrations that form community and inspire the body to heal the heart and soul. We felt it deep down – and we were moved.
Arriving during Fertile Ground’s mid-show, I entered the darkened main hall of the Knitting Factory, and was immediately drawn to the light. In an alcove, I was surrounded by the joyous energy of DANCERS — in the corner, way back from the stage, where there was plenty of room to move, to break out. Surrounding one dancer in the center, smiling, jumping, each in his or her own personal style – they were black, Latino, Asian, forming a ring of positive energy. Inspired by the music and the moves of the previous dancer, each spontaneously exploded into the energy center in a mixed repertoire of BREAKDANCE, WEST AFRICAN and the kinds of moves seen at VOGUING BALLS. These were beautiful young people, strong, muscular, precise — devoted to the body in service of the spirit, allowing freedom to flow. The feeling was one of complete abandon, sensuality, silliness, experimentation and joy –when expressed through the bodies of these highly trained dancers– nothing could be more beautiful!
We “regular folk” were feelin’ the vibrations too. I walked through the audience, and stood next to a couple facing the stage, holding each other with exceptional tenderness – I could feel the intensity of trust and peace they experienced in each other’s arms, while they focused intently on the music. Others were totally immersed in the sing-along of “Be Natural,” with eyes fixed on FERTILE GROUND’S NAVASHA DAYA who wore a queenly crown of three elongated golden leaves and a bright red and gray short-short skirt covered with cowry shells.
Navasha – and Wumni knew how to keep that energy high. These singers can DANCE! With style and ever increasing vigor, Wumni and her two beautiful backup singer/dancers and Ms Daya surrounded by her very tight band. These performers loved their audiences, and with each response from us, they re-doubled their energy.
At one point, after engaging the audience in a call-and-response, Wumni climbed off the high stage to dance with her audience. Shalewa McCall a local choreographer and educator who is dedicated to the study, preservation, documentation, performance and creation of dance works in the African Diaspora tradition, was right there front-and-center, basking in the radiance of Wumni’s performance, dancing with her to the music. Wumni invited individuals to join her and people jumped in to participate. A woman dressed in traditional African garb emerged from the audience holding a brightly colored umbrella covered with dollar bills – an acknowledgment of Wumni’s prominence and a blessing for her prosperity. With the umbrella over Wumni’s head, the audience and Wumni danced together, smiles glowing all around.
This was a homecoming, a celebration, a family reunited.
Of her many accomplishments and experiences, Wumni’s bio mentions she was invited by White Ribbon Alliance, an international coalition, working at grassroots and government levels to save the lives of pregnant women and newborn children in 90 developing countries around the world, to participate in their 10 day musical convoy tour across South Africa. At a high point towards the end of what could only be described as an ecstatic musical performance, Wumni suddenly called everything to a halt. The music stopped. She talked directly, even harshly to the audience. “TALK IS CHEAP,” she repeated – punctuated by the telling of tragic events in the African American community. “A man got shot 41 times, and what did we do?, she asked, “We talked. A man got something’s stuffed up his ass, and what did we do? We talked. … We have a president who is trying to make something happen, and talk is getting in his way. … What are we going to do?” She demanded that we take action and reminded us “When you talk and you don’t listen, you become a Zombie,” whereupon the band broke into FELA KUTI’S “ZOMBIE,” and the party continued.
After the Fertile Ground portion of the show, I had time to talk with audience member Kelly Webb, who was obviously caught up in the magic. “I became clear that what I’m doing is right. My goals and purpose are starting to become clear. It was like a signpost, a nice signpost. You get these angels and they tell you things, you know…. We have the power to heal the earth.”
Chanting Navasha’s “We Can Heal the Earth” in call-and-response certainly hit home!
Yes, WE EACH HAVE OUR DREAMS, some profound, some, perhaps less so … Me? I went outside after the show and stood in the light rain to speak briefly with Morgan, a visitor from France … and was rewarded by the fulfillment of a modest but lifelong dream, to stand at 3 in the morning, in a faint, romantic drizzle, to light the cigarette of a beautiful, young, French woman.
‘Till next time,
Judith Z. Miller
Aka Artist Soul Speaks
Upcoming Wumni Shows in June: Philadelphia, PA Toronto, Ontario & Providence Rhode Island – for more information click here: http://www.myspace.com/wunmigirl
To see more images of these performers go to http://jenmazer.com/gallery/afrobeatfest2.html