Beating the Earth in Perth
One of our Cultural Ambassadors, Shiko is sharing why she's excited about Bikutsi 3000, a show that reimagines Africa through dance, music and storytelling.
Find out how the show resonates with her and her story, in her beautiful account.
S: Recently, I attended the launch of the Perth Festival with friends and fellow cultural ambassadors. At the end of the event, we gathered in a hall where the sounds of Afro beats graced the air thanks to band Soukouss Internationale as they played Lingala, creating an airy groove and surge of energy in the room. I stood in the audience watching from a distance as my friends welcome this with amusement and rhythm.
As always, I was happy to observe as I’m not one to create a scene for myself let alone entertain the thought of it. I did a good job ‘trying to appear modest’ until a childhood jam was played. It took me to a time when my childhood friends and I would gather in a circle and cheer as one by one, we stepped into the middle of the circle to peacock our latest moves. I progressed to the dance floor excitedly as I joined my friends while moving my pelvis in a circular motion and occasionally thrusting the hips with bent knees in what was the Ndombolo dance. All I recall was the cheer as my friends joined in and at that moment, the little girl surrounded by her little friends under the moonlit ground of her backyard, I felt as if I was swimming in the sea of the heavens!
'Dance ushers in life, marks a rite of passage, tells stories of love'
Did you know that dance has been part of the fabric within many sub-Saharan African cultures, dating from the 1500s? Dance has been a spiritual practice among many African tribes. It ushers a life, marks a rite of passage, it tells stories of love, conquer, kinship, of war, and also marks a transition to the ancestral plane. It reflects on shared communal values and social relationships of the people. Traditional dance styles vary depending on many factors as the environment in which the people cohabit.
For instance, people living in open savanna in the West of Africa where the ground is solid would place their feet firmly on the sun-baked earth and follow their team leader on a circular path with simple foot patterns at a steady tempo, while those living by rivers and swampy areas would lean forward from their hips, their torsos almost parallel with the earth, as they use the precision of light, rapid foot beats moving weight from heel to toe to side foot in a variety of rhythmic patterns, as though picking their way through the swamp.
The drum is a common instrument across different cultures in African dance. It gives a tempo through which rhythm is interpreted to postures, gestures, and steps. The rhythmic patterns can be expressed through contractions of the torso, strong shoulder beats, rapid vibrations or twists of the buttocks, or acrobatic leaps (source~ Britannica).
In recent times, dance styles have been integrated for entertainment purposes, all while communicating a message that is specific to the choreographer. Blick Bassy, the renowned singer-songwriter from Cameroon and his team will be bringing Bikutsi 3000 contemporary dance to Perth.
'Bikutsi means 'beat the earth' or 'let us beat the earth''
Bikutsi is a word derived from an ethnic dance practised by the Beti people who live mainly in Cameroon’s Central Region. It means ‘beat the earth’ or ‘let us beat the earth’, in other words, a dance that is accompanied by stomping the feet on the ground. The dance will incorporate traditional dances of countries such as Cameroon, Namibia, Togo, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. This show follows a pan-African story with women in the leading roles. Here, we see the title Bikutsi 3000 come to play, which depicts a celebration of the leadership of African women in this particular storyline. The narrative shifts from hidden to highlighted; the matriarchal nature of the Africans, placing their voices at the centre and shaping an account that celebrates women all over Africa. These women will be depicted as storytellers, voodoo priestesses, queens, warriors, and singers, in imagery form.
The aim will be to characterise a story of uncolonised Africa, from the traditional to the futuristic through live dance, video, animation and music. As Blick Bassy sees it, a reality of Africa disconnected from the traditions and cultural realities of each country, with a mission to reconnect her to traditional values and the environment, to be able to manage the world.
'High energy movements that will not only set you in rhythm but surge you with feel-good vibes'
Perth Festival invites you to come and engage with Bikutsi 3000; high energy movements that will not only set you in rhythm but surge you with feel-good vibes. With amazing DJs on deck in the State Theatre Centre Courtyard before the Saturday showing, you will be entertained by Afro beats and experience a taste of Africa through dance here in Perth. Whether you consider yourself a ‘seasoned dancer’, ‘two left feet’, old, young, introvert, or extrovert, this is one not to be missed! All you need to bring will be your dancing shoes and a willingness to connect to your inner artistic expression and creativity!
Perth Festival prides itself on diversity and inclusion in its programs, including featuring the work of creatives around the globe. As a cultural ambassador for the Festival in 2022, I have witnessed this first-hand. I have enjoyed multiple programs, with some highlights such as the film Lingui: The Sacred Bonds, a story of the bravery of two women in Chad. A Day of Ideas with Centre for Stories, where a panel of African women talked about the cultural significance of Afro hair and the history of it thereof.
I, alongside my fellow cultural ambassadors have served as community leaders and champions in some capacity. We have had the privilege of representing and articulating the needs of our communities in this particular project. I spoke with two of my fellow cultural ambassadors, and this is what they had to say.
'I feel that work like this shows us ourselves in new ways, one that is empowering for all, and breaks down the barriers of race/ethnicity that has created a division between our people.' Imara Mandred
'I have learned that we need to encourage each other constantly, and also feel confident to walk into spaces that may seem foreign, and make room for ourselves if none is made. Overall, I have learned that we have got so much to give and that we are the missing link to make the change that the world needs' Molly Nadunga
We are excited to continue this work into 2023, bringing awareness about the program to the minority communities who are an ongoing target for the Perth festival. As the African saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. Together, we can accomplish so much. And what a platform to connect, engage, learn, grow, and expand our creativity, but most importantly have fun along the way. •
Written by Wanjiku (Shiko) Kariuki
Wanjiku Kariuki is a passionate storyteller who aims to educate women to use their voices. Coming from a small country town in Kenya, stories were part of the fabric of how community values and Uduire (meaning culture) were passed through generations.
Wanjiku relocated to Perth WA about 12 years ago. In her new home, Wanjiku has found her passion in advocating for community causes through fundraisers, hosting workshops for women, and using her natural talents such as acting, modelling and public speaking to encourage people from CALD communities to participate in the mainstream spaces of art and expression.
Wanjiku participated in the pilot programme of the Perth Festival Ambassador programme in 2022 and hopes to continue to do the same, in cementing relational and cultural exchange amongst communities.