PERFORMANCE REVIEW: Djapo Cultural Arts’ 8th Annual Juneteenth Concert by Jeffrey Bowen


Sat 6/17

Brava to Talise A. Campbell, executive artistic director and choreographer at Djapo Cultural Arts Institute, for their 8th annual Juneteenth Concert, “LERALE YON WI — Lighting The Way” at St. Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts. The concert was part of a two-day African Dance & Drum Festival featuring classes taught by local, national and international artists.

Djapo packed the house for a delightful evening of traditional drumming and dancing that featured a bright, passionate and incredibly polished intergenerational ensemble. The choreography was consistently strong, heartfelt and expansive, the musical direction and virtuoso performance by Assane Mbaye was remarkable, the cadre of performers were enthusiastic and engaging, the shimmering costumes were wonderful, the lighting design and technical production were flawless, and the end result was a truly exhilarating experience.

The drumming was flat-out off the hook for the entire show and the many dancers took to the stage as if this one evening were their life’s work. The multidimensional, multicultural program moved seamlessly from one piece to the next in a tapestry of color, form and pulsating rhythms that brought smiles, tears, laughter and thundering applause from a diverse and appreciative audience, that included great-great grandmothers and babes in arms.

It was also a joy to see so many local elders and master players, like Baba David Coleman, Baba Jubal Harris, Donald Davis, Ismail Douglas and others, working side by side with Djapo’s wonderful ensemble of drummers and dancers and esteemed special guests. The traditional inclusion of “the babies” performing with aspiring teens and adult professionals was both heartwarming and encouraging, and it was a real treat to see a showcase of so many strong, professional women drummers. I can assure you that pioneers such as master drummers Edwina Tyler and Linda Thomas Jones are as proud as can be.

The addition of the truly talented ensemble the Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word, a group of African-American males ages 8-18 who study the art of performance poetry, was remarkable. Also, the bustling marketplace in the lobby added to the cultural milieu, and the swinging Afrobeat performance by Olu Manns’ latest crew for the after-party was the perfect way to end the evening.

Talise Campbell has taken an age-old African tradition that was seeded here in Cleveland by Iyanifa Fasi Irunsewe Olomo, Baba David Coleman, Bessemer Taylor Sr. and others during the 1980s well into the future, with choreography, creativity, production values and professionalism that are second to none. I am certain that the late master teacher and performer Baba Chuck Davis (1937-2017) is beaming, and that the ancestors who have carried this music and movement forward, since the beginning of time, are pleased as well. !


Jeffrey Bowen’s writing has appeared in Akron Beacon Journal, Call & Post, City News, Cleveland Scene, Cool Cleveland, EcoWatch, Elephant Journal, Girl Scout News, Green City-Blue Lake, Heights Observer, ideastream, Live Cleveland, Neighborhood News, Nonprofit Notes, Sun News, multiple Habitat for Humanity publications, and several poetry collections. He is also a conga player and percussionist.

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