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African Rhythms

February 18, 2012

African Rhythms Drum and Dance Troupe came into existence at Penn during the fall of 1993. Its connection to and continued support from the West Philadelphia community, specifically the African dance and drum community, heavily contributed to its successful growth over the years. The group was founded by College senior Raqiba Sealy and was established by its foundation members. (Dancers: Alaina Anderson, Kristen Berry, Onyx Finney, Angine Harriott, Yasmine Holsey, Marjorie Janvier, LaShanta Johnson, Gardith Marceline, Janine Peterson, Christine Roberts, Raqiba Sealy, and Glory Udubot. Drummers: Michael Coffey, Ayo Fapohunda, and Mamadou Johnson. Manager: Asia Slowe. Dance Instructor: Mary Williams of the Ibeji Dance Company. Drum Instructor: Paul Lucas of the Ibeji Dance Company).

Since her freshman year, Raqiba had the vision to introduce cultural diversity at Penn through the arts (particularly in the area of dance). A few months prior to its inception on-campus, Raqiba reached out to Bill Roberts, Asia Slowe, Phyllis Dennis of the Greenfield Intercultural Center, and the people in the GIC African dance class to help bring her vision to life. With very little money and resources, African Rhythms came into being, defying the odds. Prior to earning recognition from the Performing Arts Council (PAC) and the Student Activities Council (SAC) later in the academic school year, the newly-found group relied heavily on financial contributions from The Du Bois College House Council, Penn Women’s Center, the Black Student League, The African-American Resource Center and the Afro-American Studies Department (which, we now know as the Center for Africana Studies Department) to obtain the necessary things needed for such a performance group like costumes and instruments. With its first performance in early November, as a guest act for the Inspiration, African Rhythms was able to achieve quite a productive start performing another five times before the conclusion of the 1994 spring semester.

The name, African Rhythms, was decided upon from the idea that “the rhythm and culture of Africa encompass Black cultures around the world”, explained Sealy in the April 1994 publication of The Vision. Sealy later cites the resemblance between traditional African dance and contemporary dance form of Black urban youth to support the existence of the relationship between Africa and its cultural influence throughout the diaspora. According to its official handbook, the group’s mission is “to bring education, as well as entertainment to the University of Pennsylvania campus”. The group achieves this through dance, percussion, workshops, and group activities that practice the African aesthetics of unity and cooperation. African Rhythms prides itself on being family-oriented, since the relationship between dancers and drummers is integral to the success of the group. Thus, it is only when both parties can come together in unison that something beautiful and meaningful can be given to the community, from which the group ultimately draws its strength, unity and creativity.”

Mulu Habtemariam, CAS’12

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