MAMAWE! A celebration of African Music and Dance.

Dancers Angelina and Sarah at MAMAWE! Tired but happy.

Dancers Angelina and Sarah at MAMAWE! Tired but happy.

It means “Oh my god, this is all getting too exciting!” Or “Oh my god, this is all a bit too much for me!” I’ve felt like that in both senses recently. But I’m starting to feel a sense of excitement again. Knowing that I’m part of a vibrant community of creative people in Sheffield and beyond really helps, and on Saturday, my friend and amazingly talented dancer, Angelina Abel hosted a celebration of African music, dance and food.

Angelina has been teaching dance for over five years now. She had always been a great dancer, and would always try to make me learn moves when we were out together. She dragged me to salsa classes, which I wasn’t too sure about, and to bellydance, which I came to love as much as she did. In her Angolan Portuguese family, everyone can dance, and from the start of our friendship, Angelina managed to convince me that I didn’t have two left feet. She’s turned her passion into dedication, getting on National Express coaches at stupid times in the morning to spend her weekends in dance training. And she’s also built her own dance school, Mulembas D’Africa. We’ve performed in Sheffield City centre, Bakewell, and in a gazebo in a muddy torchlit park at Sharrow Lantern Festival. 

Learning to dance has improved my fitness, helped me to make new friends, given me confidence and relieved a lot of stress.

On Saturday, we helped Angelina and to arrange chairs and hang beautiful printed African fabric on the walls of the Sharrow Old Junior School, an old school hall which is now part of a community centre. The speakers and turntables were in place and people taking part in the drumming workshop gathered together. I selected a beautiful djembe drum and managed to balance it between my knees. As a vegan, it’s a bit weird to be banging away on a goat skin drum head, but the drums look and feel beautiful. In case you were wondering, this is how a djembe is made:

Drum tutor Souleymane Compo led us in a two-hour long drum lesson. I was completely absorbed and I loved it. There were beginners and more advanced drummers in the workshop, and the class covered quite complicated rhythms to remember. I was really pleased that I managed to keep up. For the first half of the class, I concentrated intently, and then I slipped into a sort of trance, just focussing on the rhythm that we were playing. When we’d finished, I was surprised that my back was aching from bending over the drum.

More people were now gathering, for Abram Diallo’s dance class. Here he is, teaching a class in Bristol, and you can see what an amazing mover he is! Abram is from Guinea Conakry in West Africa and he’s been dancing from a very young age. Tall and wiry, he seems to have boundless energy and effortless grace, which is probably why he became a choreographer by the age of eighteen. He made us work very hard, as he says that there’s no energy and life in half-hearted movements, but he was also very entertaining. The routine he taught us, with live drummers, was based on a rhythm I’d danced to in one of Angelina’s classes, so I was familiar with the slow rhythm changing to the fast and furious. And I managed to keep up, without getting my arms and legs in a complete tangle!

Abram also told us about the meaning of the two rhythms: Yankadi is slow and laid back; a women’s dance; and Abram seemed to really enjoy dancing “like a beautiful young girl”, to show us how it was done. Macru is the fast part, where the young men join in with the dance. At the end of the session, Abram gathered us into a semi-circle around the drummers and made sure that we all took turns and did a solo dance, which was exhilarating, in such a large group with so many talented dancers.

After a cool down, I was ready for a meal from Miss Adu’s Kitchen, run by Chaz, another friend who has taken the plunge and gone freerange (literally), as she’s started an African-inspired catering company with the aim to “Entertain, Educate and Empower through everyone’s need for food and laughter”. She cooks great vegetarian food as well as some meaty delights, and I felt like I’d definitely earned my dinner!

The entertainment wasn’t over, as Angelina, dancer Bekki French and the talented Kweku, joined forces for a comedy dance routine, introduced by Angelina’s young nephew and friend. Her nephew proved that dance really does run in the family with his impromptu routine to ‘Hey Now’ by Outkast. The irrepressible Sarah Khouchane from Maskara Dance in London rounded off the dance performances with a showcase of traditional Algerian dance and electro swing, her acrobatics wowing the audience.

The performances were rounded off by some rousing Punjabi Dhol drumming from the wonderful (but shy – honest!) Tanya Stanley. Papa Al and the Globologist took over by spinning some beats from around the world. The dancefloor filled up with people trying out new moves.

It was an exhausting but exciting day, and I’m really looking forward to the next one! Angelina has worked really hard and created a network of performers and creative people from all over the world. She’s has brought people together to build a really special community here in Sheffield and I’m really proud of her.

There will be more photos linked to this post soon! I couldn’t take any of the drumming and dancing, as I was too busy actually taking part!

Things this blog is about…