Dance Troupe Shares African Rhythms

Dance Troupe Shares African Rhythms
Staff Photo Nick Brothers Kouakou Yao “Angelo,” director of Afrique Aya, leads his students at a performance at the Springdale Public Library, Feb. 8.

Staff Photo Nick Brothers
Kouakou Yao “Angelo,” director of Afrique Aya, leads his students at a performance at the Springdale Public Library, Feb. 8.

Kouakou Yao “Angelo,” the master drummer and dancer of Afrique Aya, surveyed the crowd at the Springdale Public Library — mostly families and children lying in wait for his next move. He wore a vibrant, intricately patterned Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) outfit. Behind him, Anita Schnee, Agymah Kamau and Ben Johnson — in similar garb — sat at the ready with their drums for his command. With a quick “Unh!” Angelo hammered his palms on his treble djembe:

Rrappa pa papapa pa pa pah!

The tight, crisp sound was piercing, but engaging. He rolled through another rhythm, signaling to the all-women dance troupe of Margot Jackson, Cindy Rauth, Gianella Edelen, Nee Karas, and Shakeenah Keden to walk out in front of the crowd.

Rrappa pa papapa pa pa pah! Pah!

With that, the drummers barrelled a hypnotic rhythm into their djembes and drums for the dancers to move to and converse with in rhythm. They twisted and jumped from foot to foot and threw their arms up in the air. The all-ages crowd seemed to love the spectacle, even getting the children to bang along on the floor to Angelo’s drumming.

This was the spirit of Afrique Aya, a West African-style performance group now based in Fayetteville. Consisting of Angelo and his students, the group performs and teaches in schools and private events throughout the Mid-South.

Angelo has a long history of dancing behind him. He was born in Bouake, Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), West Africa, where dance is rooted in daily life and is the number one thing to do, he said. At age 14 he joined Koteba, a Ivoirean dance and theater company, and he toured the world with them from 1992 to 1997.

In 1997, Angelo came to the United States to work with choreographer Ralph Lemon to create “Geography,” a fusion of post-modern movement and traditional African dance. This production was performed at Yale Repertory Theatre, Brooklyn Academy of Music, and all over the U.S. Then, in 1998 he moved to Burlington, Vermont in 1998, where he formed Afrique Aya. In 2002, Angelo and his Arkansan wife Jennifer Clay moved to Northwest Arkansas, first to Eureka Springs and, in 2010, to Fayetteville.

“I love it (in Northwest Arkansas), it’s laid back,” Angelo said. “Even though people may see me play fast and see my energy, I love being able to wake up in the morning and go out on my porch and look around. I hate being in a big city where you have to be on top of 17 stories of people. I don’t know how people do it.”

Angelo also tries to take one of his students with him to Africa every other year or so for the cultural experience. Dancing and body movement is a huge part of African culture and daily life, he said.

“Rhythm, for me, is life,” Angelo said. “It’s something that brings joy. It’s an international, universal language everyone can understand. You can move to it.”

Classes with Afrique Aya are at Washington Elementary Gym on Thursdays 6:00-7:00 for drums, and 7:00-8:30 for dance class. They also do a beginners dance class for kids and adults at Trailside Yoga on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

“You don’t have to be a dancer or drummer to learn,” Angelo said. “With teaching, after seeing someone get it and start feeling it, that’s what makes me feel good.”

Afrique Aya offer performances for weddings, company parties, birthday parties and any other celebration. To book a performance contact Shakeenah Kedem at 870-504-1531

You can catch Afrique Aya at Trailside Yoga on March 6 at 6:30 p.m., where there will be a free yoga and dance class with a dance and drum performance.

Categories: Galleries
Tags: Afrique Aya