Thursday, July 9, 2015

AFRICA ACTS: African Artists Come Together to Combat Stereotypes

A bold and ambitious event is unfolding this week in Paris.

Performed in a range of spaces across Paris, such as museums and contemporary art centers, jazz clubs, university lecture halls, streets, and plazas, AFRICA ACTS is a program devoted to performance arts in Africa and its Diasporas. It is being held in parallel with the European Conference on African Studies that is taking place at the Sorbonne on July 8-10, 2015.

The inspiration behind AFRICA ACTS is the idea that there is much more to Africa than the commonplace images that people in the northern countries hold of the continent. To combat these stereotypes, twelve performance artists have come to Paris to demonstrate through their works that Africa is brilliant, nuanced, and full of passion and pride.

Tom and I were privileged to attend one of the musical events staged as part of this event on Tuesday, July 7. That night, the Musée Dapper hosted a concert by Serge Kakudji, counter tenor and composer of opera, who sang a large selection of baroque music.

Serge Kakudji
© Discover Paris!

Kakudji discovered opera at the age of seven, when he was surfing television channels in his hometown of Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo. He was captivated by the music, even though it was sung in a foreign language. It so inspired him that he asked to join the choir at the church that his parents attended. Self-taught, he developed his talent sufficiently that he was invited to participate in an international competition in Harare, Zimbabwe in 2006. His talent was recognized by Congolese choreographer Faustin Linyekula and he was invited to participate in Linyekula's show Dinozord, which traveled to Brussels, Avignon, and Lisbon.

During a rehearsal of Dinozord in Brussels, American opera singer Laura Claycomb saw Kakudji perform and encouraged him to sing professionally. As a result, he soon found himself enrolled at the Institut Supérieur de Musique et de Pédagogie de Namur (IMEP) in Belgium.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Kakudji gave a masterful performance. He ended the concert with a song called "Nyumbani" from an opera that he and a colleague composed as the first opera in the Swahili language. ("Nyumbani" means "home" in Swahili.)

Qudus Onikeku, native of Lagos, Nigeria and founder of AFRoPARISIAN Network, is another of the twelve performers that AFRICA ACTS has lined up. He has woven a mix of dance, stand-up comedy, and dance class into a performance called Africaman Original, which he will give at the Collège des Bernardins in the 5th arrondissement today (July 9).

Qudus Onikeku
Image courtesy of Qudus Onikeku

Africaman Original incorporates video clips of African dance and film stock of Brazilian and Afro-American performance that are projected on a screen in synch with recorded music. Onikeku invites members of the audience to come onstage to take part in a dance class that he conducts to the rhythms of Fela Kuti, pioneer of Afrobeat.

AFRICA ACTS is organized by Institut des Mondes Africains (IMAF) and Les Afriques dans le Monde (LAM) with support from l’agence à paris. For information about these groups, click HERE.

For the complete schedule of AFRICA ACTS' performances, click HERE.


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