Performances by African drummers and Chinese traditional musicians
2008 International Festival
Nov. 21, 2-9 p.m.; Nov. 22, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Nov. 23, 12-6 p.m.
West Pavilion, Indiana State Fairgrounds
$7 advance, $9 door. Child (6-12 years): $6 flat rate
In its 32nd year of promoting cultural diversity in Indianapolis, the organizers of this year’s International Festival hope to draw visitors of all ages to the Indiana State Fairgrounds to witness the wealth of tastes, sounds and sights of the world.
“The festival’s mission is centered around sharing cultural heritage,” Media Relations and Marketing Manager Jessica Hubley explains. “One way in which we teach and share is expressed through music and dance.”
Many cultural groups are performing arts extensions of the host organization for the festival, the Nationalities Council of Indiana.
“This heritage is found in the sounds and rhythms of these individual cultures whether it’s the sounds of Persia, the drums of Africa, the fiddles of Ireland or the castanets of Spain,” Hubley says. “Unlike other cultural events in Indy that are focused on one cultural group, we are an event that is all-encompassing.”
The Peking Opera will headline this year’s event, presenting a show that features sword fights, acrobatics and martial arts accompanied by traditional Chinese musical instruments. More than 50 different Indiana-based cultural organizations and performance groups will be performing on two stages throughout the weekend.
“I hope people see that all cultures share a love of music and dance,” Hubley says. “Even though each is slightly different — in rhythm, dance, costuming, pitch and variation — they are really quite similar.”
Global Children, African Dancers
Sally Stovall created Global Children, African Dancers with the intent to give children a forum to grow and bond through learning the dance, music and culture of Africa.
The group consists of 15 young dancers accompanied by three adult drummers from the African Catholic Ministry. The drummers and dancers function very much as a family, laughing together, approvingly applauding a fine move.
“I take it as a privilege that other people want to learn about culture,” said adult drummer Sister Christine Nantaba, a native of Uganda.
The adult leaders of the group — Stovall, Nantaba and Alex Ogbuh — lived in Africa for some time in their life, witnessing firsthand the importance of music and dance in African culture.
“I was a dancer in Nigeria as a kid. I enjoyed it so that is why I am giving back,” Stovall said.
“The reason why I joined was to teach those who are interested in learning about African culture,” Ogbuh said.
The children are taught the huge role that drums play in daily African life.
“The drum is a very important instrument in African culture. Besides being in songs, it is an instrument of communication,” Nantaba said.
In addition, the dances learned by the children are taught with an emphasis on lower body movements.
“The key to African dancing is relaxation, feeling the beat of the music, enjoying dancing but most of all learning how to move the hips, legs, hands and chest,” Stovall said.
“When other people tell you bad things, the people here will make you self-confident,” said 10-year-old dancer Sheila Amegan.
The dancers primarily consist of young, energetic children in search of knowledge about African culture and dance.
“I enjoy the dance moves because they are fun and they work your body a lot,” said smiling 6-year old Jamya Clay.
“Instead of sitting around on the couch and watching TV, we have to take a lot of time to get the dances right,” said 12-year-old Ikenna Stovall, son of Sally Stovall.
Stovall has to do a little translation so that her students might grasp the significance of any one dance.
“For non-Africans, it can take a while to get the meaning of the dance and movements, but with a little explanation and paying closer attention to the dance, you will learn that the African dances offer more than entertainment as they do tell a story,” she explains.
One student reports that his time with the drummers has been transformative.
“Mrs. Stovall and Sister Christine have made me become a better person and a better man,” said 16-year-old drummer Diamond Price.
This year’s performance from the Chinese School at IUPUI will feature musician and singer Jerry Yang. Yang, a former professional musician, will play an er hu, an ancient Chinese musical instrument that he says sounds much like a violin.
Yang was exposed to music at a young age. He became a professional Peking Opera performer at age 13. At age 19, he became an actor, and at 24 he earned a major in theater from the Central Academy of Drama in Beijing.
Although Yang has experience with the Peking Opera, he will not be performing with them at this year’s International Fest. Instead he will perform solo with the er hu, except for a duet with his daughter on “You and Me,” the theme song from the 2008 Olympics held in Beijing.
Yang explains that he doesn’t write music for money, but rather because he always has music in his mind and has to “write it out.”
Yang says his music — which incorporates several Chinese musical traditions from different parts of the country — could be best described as “New Age.” He calls his sound “warm, elegant and smooth.” He is preparing for his first album at the moment.
“I am participating in the event to take this opportunity to introduce more Chinese music and culture to people, so that more people will know and like our cultures,” Yang said.