Tuesday, August 10, 2010

SABAR: Life is a Dance

It was great seeing SABAR again, my first time with an audience and the first time with cast in the house as well at a free community screening at the Museum of the African Diaspora. It opened the Oakland International Film Festival 2009 to much acclaim, so I was happy to see it earlier this year, since I missed the huge splash.
Another one of those stories which are as much about place as it is about, in this case identity, SABAR is Oakland as well--African Oakland, an Oakland one might miss if one is not walking to a rhythm he or she can't count, as Baba Zak Diouf says to his students, one has to feel.

Sabar is both a dance and a drum. I remember when I first heard of Sabar, there was a national troupe from Senegal coming to the University of California at Berkeley's Zellerbach Auditorium. I think there were like 50 drummers and all of them played this wooden drum with sticks. It was so impressive. I don’t remember if there were dancers too. I don’t think I knew there was also a dance until this film.
Okay, I’m slow, but though I’ve seen the dance, I didn’t connect it to the drum.

Set in both 1977 and 2007, Nwoffiah’s SABAR story centers around a young woman who teaches hip hop dance, yet her best friend dances Sabar. Little does she know, but her mother danced Sabar at the Pan African Arts Festival FESPACO in Lagos, Nigeria, and that Sabar will save her life.

When the film opens we meet Aisha (actress Bunmi DeRosario) and her sick mother, “Roberta” actress Ellen Foster Randle, in the hospital. The mother’s dying wish is for her daughter to dance SABAR and she makes her daughter’s best friend, “Fatima” actress Kenesha Mayfield, promise to if not make Aisha drink, certainly tether her to the well (smile).

SABAR is Aisha’s journey back to herself via SABAR which calls her to it in ways which are inexplicable, yet, irresistible especially as she learns how important this cultural expression has been to those close to her like her mother and her best friend and eventually her teacher—Aziz, actor Alassane Kane and Mama Ramatu, actress Naomi Diouf.

When she returns home from the hospital, Aisha begins to look at old scrap books her mother has left for her to learn more about her heritage and her mother’s life before she was born. All roads lead to SABAR, and so she attends a class with Fatima and gets hooked just in time to participate in the festival coming up in Oakland.

Aziz looks at Aisha and sees SABAR. He tells her Sabar is in your soul. “You can’t fight it.” The girl thinks he’s crazy, yet once she commits to the class and company, Sabar takes over almost obsessively. There is no room for romance, for anything outside except perhaps work…and in the end she seems to even let that go.

Sabar helps Aisha order her life and set priorities as her friend Fatima’s love life is taking a serious turn and Aisha meets a man who just like the dance, is irresistible.

Sabar the film, like Sabar the dance and drum is mysterious, full of suspense, tragedy and yes, of course, magic. A literal Pan African story – Aisha is both Africa and America…SABAR the bridge between the two.

Nwoffiah’s work, whether it's film or theatre thematically centers itself in Pan African history and culture. SABAR is no different.

As SABAR speaks to the rhythms of Africa in the Diaspora moving along a cinematic trajectory that is reflected in the music and dance of a fractured and severed community of people reunited: SABAR holds forth in epic proportions –measurable and immeasurable. Aisha a symbol of a life discovered at the intersection between periods (500 years later).

When one looks at major gathering of Africans in the Diaspora in the twentieth century, FESTAC, Second World Festival of Black Arts and Culture of 1977, in Lagos, Nigeria, stands out. (The first was held in Dakar, Senegal in 1966.)

It was a time of world wide celebration! Those who’d passed through the Doors of No Return were back home—the wanderer in the Bush of Ghosts had returned.

There was a similar gathering in Europe in the 1950s with Richard Wright and W.E.B Dubois and future heads of African nations. I think it was connected to the Negritude movement, I’m not certain, but FESTAC sounds like it created a movement and Aisha and her generation are the offspring of FESTAC, the SABAR generation.

The director, Chike Nwoffiah said he was there at FESTAC, a baby, but he was there. Associate Producer, photographer, Tumani Onabiyi was definitely there and one sees his photos illustrating the scenes in SABAR.

The idea for the story, which became SABAR, Nwoffiah says goes back ten years when he entered a studio at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts and SABAR was being played. Zak Diouf and other famous drummers are in the film, as well as renown dancers.

After a conversation with his co-writer, Nwoffiah’s project shifted from a documentary about African drumming and dance, to the story of a young woman who has SABAR in her soul.

The cast is phenomenal, especially Aisha and Fatima’s boyfriends: “Martin,” actor Curtis Campbell and “Gerald,” actor David Ali (smile), as are the dance sequences and drumming with dancers: Habana Coleman, Ibrahim Diouf, Ashley Mayer, Alecia Hudson, Kara Mack and Donna McCraney, with drummers: Karamba, Zak Diouf
Dam Gueye, Magette Sow, Madiou Diouf, Idrissa Gueye, Abdou M’Baye, Cheikh M’Baye, Mamadou Kone and Tumani Onabiyi, are powerful as well.

Though the protagonist, Aisha, isn’t the most powerful dancer on stage, what she has is heart, and the connection between the dance and drum and one’s heart is not lost on the audience, even a young audience member, my niece, Wilda who was eight at the time, got it.

Sometimes one has to listen to her heart . . . the rhythms don’t lie: when one dances to the rhythms in one’s soul, one’s life becomes ordered, doubts fall away and everything which is for you is within reach.

In other words, there is a happy ending (smile). Visit http://www.sabarthemovie.com/


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