Library dances to a different beat
Bi-Okoto Cultural Center brings African rhythms to Kokomo as part of summer reading program
Jayen Bougher is a 12-year-old trumpet player in the Bon Air Middle School band, but on June 7 he was learning to play the West African bell instrument (agogo) and African (djun djun) drums. He was one of a dozen or more youngsters and parents participating in and enjoying a rare local activity – a workshop of African dance, music, and song in the annex of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library’s main branch downtown.
“We want our kids to have fun, but we also want them to learn, so it is exciting to learn about other cultures,” said Trina Evans, Head of Children’s Services at KHCPL.
Two dances were creatively choreographed by Funmilayo Ajamufua, program coordinator for Bi-Okoto Cultural Center, a Cincinnati-based outfit where they engage, entertain, and educate children.
“Africa is a continent that has over 50 countries in it,” explained the effervescent Ajamufua. “So, all these countries have their different dances. In each country we have over 350 different tribes that speak different languages. I taught today Kpalongo, which originates from Ghana. The second dance is called Atilogwu. That is from the eastern part of Nigeria. They wanted us to come share the culture. This is what I do.”
This unique series of workshops was conceived and produced by Evans.
“I definitely was interested in a performer to come to Kokomo that is a little different, and I enjoy dance,” said Evans, who danced alongside her library members. “We are trying to be very intentional. The library does have an equity plan now. So, when we were looking at the performers that we want to have at our library, we want to make sure that it’s diverse; something that maybe we haven’t done before.”
Also participating was Robin Williams, an ethnomusicologist, author, and African music specialist who called the program “heartwarming.”
“I’m spoiled; living in Atlanta and New Orleans and having my daughter involved in African dance companies,” said Williams. “To see this happen in Kokomo is outstanding and should be the first of many multicultural opportunities for young people in this community.”
Reportedly, Bi-Okoto’s immersive, culturally inspired experience is designed to educate people about African artistic traditions and heritage to promote diversity, and physical and societal healing.
“We teach African drum and dances, songs and everything,” said Ajamufua. “We hold residencies, assemblies, and workshops. We go to libraries and churches. This has been my life.
“When I was back in Nigeria, I used to work for my state arts and culture council. It is a passion for me. So, when I came to the United States and found an organization whose mission aligns with what I do, it was a call that I needed to respond to. I am a professional teaching and performing artist.”
Evans said the workshops worked wondrously, and there is another on Thursday, June 9, at 10 a.m. at KHCPL’s South branch.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Evans. “It was so much fun. I loved the energy. There was a family that participated at 10 o’clock, and they came back for the 2 p.m. performance because they had so much fun. I like it when kids can participate, especially in some kind of movement.”
Evans wants Kokomo children to come to the library thinking it is a fun place.
“Learning can be fun,” she said. “(Ajamufua) talked about Nigeria and Ghana. Now the kids might go into the library and want to look up those books. We want to spark an interest in something, and that is what we are always hoping for the library. What interest can we spark?”