July 27, 2012

Sawa Hosting the fervor of African Culture

Sawa Hosting the fervor of African Culture

by Kesete Ghebrehiwet | The recently held 5th Eri-Youth Festival, Sawa, has been a platform for multi-national cultural performances.

Apart from the cultural shows of Eritrea’s nine ethnic groups, performances of Miss Jojo’s music crew from Rwanda as well as shows of Lebogang Masemola music group from South Africa, Crane Performers- cultural troupe of Uganda were engaged in staging diversified shows on Sawa grounds. This cultural group represents typical African dance and Music. One could not only have a glimpse to true African beat and rhythm but could, to some extent, get a chance to explore what the cultural wealth of Africa is. The similarities of traditions among African societies and their diversity were also vividly reflected through the very exciting shows of the Crane Performances. At times, one could be totally engrossed to what is being performed and becomes non responsive to the world outside the stage.

Crane Performers was founded as Ugandan cultural troupe in 2001. This cultural group was named after the national emblem of Uganda- the ‘Crested Crane’. Mr. Gordon Kayovu is the director and founder of this cultural troupe. He draws a comparison between traditional music of Eritrea and Uganda while describing that one ethnic group of Uganda- Karamajong – is much similar to the Kunama ethnic group of Eritrea. When one makes close look at Eritrean tradition, Mr. Gordon said that most of Eritrean dance resembles to that of most tribes of Uganda and so is the music.

Metal corks the Kumanas of Eritrea wear on their anklets or just below their knees is similar to the pieces decorated by big wooden beads the Crane Performers wear on their anklets while performing some sort of dance.  The costume they wear while performing is also much like of the Eritrean ethnic groups. One could find a fusion of Eritrean cultural dancing costumes in complete closing set of the Cranes. One who has a good knowledge of cultural dressings of all Eritrea’s nine ethnic groups could easily notice that there is a mix of all such dressings in one garment of the Crane Performers.

Male dancers of the Ugandan cultural troupe wear shorts and put on caps that are decorated by ostrich feathers. The feathers erected upwards on the top of the caps just resemble a peacock’s tail. One could also see necklaces made up of sea shells hanged on the necks and stretched down to the bellies of the male dancers and also their waists girded with such shells. Mr. Gordon describes what such sea shells symbolize saying: “That is a uniform for a boy who is ready to be initiated into manhood.  A person who is ready to be circumcised wears the shells to announce his readiness into manhood.”

The female dancers of the Cranes also gird their waist with furs of different colors. These female choreographers make visible movements from their waist down to the lower half of their body, whereas the upper part of their body remains firm and almost motionless.  As regards the vivid dances of the female members of the cultural troupe, Mr. Gordon said “The ladies twist their waist as if they do not have bones.” And indeed their body is very flexible and at times, it seems as if is elastic.  Such a performance never let one’s attention deviate even for a second. What is more is that the show not only prompt one’s body sways but also sooths one’s emotions altogether. Everybody who watched the Crane Performers on the outdoor stage just standing on Sawa grounds for consecutive hours was reluctant to leave the area of performance until the music crew left off the stage gathering its music instruments.

The music performance of the Cranes was very participatory. The director of the Cranes is not only busy in guiding his team but in making the audiences participate in the performance. While the audience get tuned to what is being performed on the stage, Mr. Gordon could call out some among the audience to climb on the stage and challenge him not the Ugandan beat but rather opts to compete with the Eritrean youths in the beats they are familiarized with.

As audience, what really amazed us was that, on the next day of their performance in Sawa, he called six out of the huge number of audience to climb on to the stage and asked them to compete between one another in dancing the Ugandan beat. The funniest thing is that all the six danced the beat and three of them won traditional drams the director of Cranes had prepared to offer-drum souvenirs that carry in them true African cultural identity.

Once the music and dance of the Cranes starts, there is no delay in changing from one sort of performance to another for each member of this cultural troupe is busy to not let the attention of the audience deviate. Despite the successive and non-ceasing performances, this music crew makes sure that the audience is still tuned to what is being staged. In this regard Mr. Gordon said “We perform to entertain ourselves; it is in entertaining ourselves that we entertain the audience.” And in fact, as all members of the team dance and play the music with passion they evoke such a feeling on the audience

Structurally, this Ugandan cultural group is similar to Eritrea’s Sbrit cultural troupe. Although Crane Performers of Uganda and Sbrit cultural troupe of Eritrea seems replica of one another, these two cultural troupes possess distinguishing qualities in representing a diversified culture of these two nations. In any regional and international performances, Sbrit cultural troupe tries to represent the music and dance of Eritrea’s nine Ethnic groups. But, did the Crane Performers represent the Ugandan music and dance in depth? Mr. Gordon has to comment some on this. He said: “We just represented almost 80 % of the overall culture for the time could not allow.”

Pointing out that the major mission of Crane Performers is to become representatives of Ugandan rich and diversified culture through music, dance and drama performances, Mr. Gordon said that the performance they staged at the opening of Eri-youth Festival in Sawa was a circumcision dance from the eastern Uganda where males circumcise at a particular age.

As music has a universal appeal, traditional music of any given nation needs to be staged out of its indigenous roots so as to be equally shared by people from around the world. For such cultural interactions to happen, peace and stability and strengthened bilateral ties among nations stand as a requisite necessity.  As regards what brings Crane Performances into an interaction with Eritrea, Mr. Gordon said that the good bilateral relationship maintained between Uganda and Eritrea has become for them a good motivation. Mr. Gordon also added that his cultural troupe had welcomed and bid farewell to President Isiais Afworki during his visit to Uganda about six months ago.

If Sbirt cultural troupe of Eritrea represents the livelihood of all Eritrea’s ethnic groups through music and dance and so is the Ugandan cultural troupe. Being a national symbol of Uganda, Mr. Gordon said that the Crane Performers try to give the audience a glimpse of Ugandan culture. In Uganda, Mr. Gordon said that there are six major tribes and each tribe has its own music and a different way of playing it. The dancers portray different activities within the cultures. Some of them are related to the movements of the cows and some of them are activities of agriculture.  He highlights about the tribes in Uganda and their dances as follows:

The dance of Baganda tribe, who live in the central part of Uganda, for instance, is very graceful. The dances of Acholies and Langies, tribes from the northern part of the country, are closely related to wars and masculinity for that region was for long infested with wars.  The Acholi people, who live in the west of Uganda, are cattle keepers. Their dance is so graceful and as they are cattle keepers they imitate the movements of cows. The Karamajong are too much alike to the Kunama ethnic group of Eritrea. So, “Karamajongs are the Kunamas of Uganda.”  He said “We have also people form western Uganda -the Bunyoro and Batoro, whose dances portray love and courtship.”

And the sort of dance the Crane Performers danced on the outdoor stage jumping and stretching their legs here and there and from right to left and vice versa is typically of the Baganda. This sort of folk dance is known as Amaggunju. The Bagandas perform this dance when a king is coming to greet his people. One could be amazed to notice the dance steps are very fast and at times energy demanding. “We trained our performers to fill the music fast and then to entertain themselves. It is when the audience saw us happy and enjoying ourselves they struggle to find why we are happy. In this process they start to feel it.” Mr. Gordon said.

The Crane Performers accompanied by a number of visitors form different parts of the county and Eritreans form abroad, traveled by bus to Sawa. On their way to Sawa they got a chance to experience the peace and stability of the country. Mr. Gordon pointed out  that the journey all the way to Sawa gave them an insight that Sawa is a true sense of belonging, a true sense of unity, and Eritrea is  a country full of dignity that has taken a total care to make sure its citizens grow loving one another and their country.

Speaking of his impression about Eritrea before he visits the country with this crew, Mr. Gordon said, “The impression we had from the outside is that Eritrea is very unsafe, very harsh, and unwelcoming and a country riddled with internal conflicts. However, the best way to disprove such rumors is by visiting and being part of Eritrea and thereby to personally witness a totally different reality.” Mr. Gordon added that from the very day they arrived in Eritrea, they observed a very unique welcoming hospitality of the people of the country. “Even though,” Mr. Gordon said, “We have been told that there are different tribes in Eritrea, but what we see here is that Eritreans are united as one”

One who observed that a number of people watched the shows staged by Crane Performers could understand that the audiences were very happy of the very catchy shows and everybody seems very eager to have them again in Eritrea. Mr. Gordon on his part said that his crew is happy to be in Eritrea and to come back again.

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