Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Serious Style: Dancing to the Beat of OUR Own Drum

As I explained in my READing Your Style post, Buff Around the Edges, I took an African American Psychology class which taught me a lot about the Afrocentric Worldview. Me being an African American myself, it taught me a lot about myself and how the Afrocentric Worldview factors into the acculturation of our modern day globalized culture. I thought to myself, what makes Black people’s style so much different than other cultures style? The imposition of another culture as a means of dominating an oppressed group is one of America’s most distasteful social phenomena in regards to  the Slave Trade, and the segregation inflicted after it was abolished. Being that African-Americans are the product of a pathological society that incorporates racism, oppression, and unnaturalness in that our African ancestors were stripped from their Mother Land and reduced to the status of animals, Black people have struggled to retain their psychological orientation towards African values. This month being Black History month, I felt it important to explore the African Worldview that Black people have worked to define in modern society. 

African Art Exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

If you are following me on Instagram, I debuted my account by taking photos of what I felt were, in my fashion, the most interesting items to consider buying came from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts gift store. This museum is where I chose to get a more voyeuristic view of African art and culture to learn about what makes a Black person's style so distinctive in the world today. What I discovered on my visit was how important dance has always been in African culture. Upon entering the exhibit I was awed by the plethora of elaborate masks and symbolic costumes representing various spirits of the many African tribes on the continent. When I was younger, my mother decorated our house with many different African masks, and while I knew that these masks were symbolic of our African roots, I was unaware of how these masks were important in African culture. What I learned on my visit was that masks, and the elaborate regalia made from earth’s resources, were used mostly in religious ceremonies and cultural traditional gatherings of which represented the spirits Africans believed were present in nature who they believed would foster their community’s well being. 

When trouble disrupts the flow of village life, the Wee culture
employed large horrific masks to help banish evil spirits that
are causing the trouble. The Ga Wree-Wre Mask (far right)
was a judgement mask which keeps peace and stops wars.
The Soewi Mask (top left) embodies the
guardian spirit of Sande. Sande guides the
Development of adolescent girls.
Images of birds play a role in expressing the 
King's authority. Birds often refer to the 1st 
women, and suggests the King must have the
support of a women in his realm.

The polished mussel shells symbolize leadership, while 
it's braided fibers, imitating a women's hairstyle, suggest
 the male wearer's quasi-female status by way of the
 comprehensive human understanding he's attained. The hat
with red and white beads was worn by a women.

The cultural beliefs of Africans are very spiritually based in that the African Worldview promotes the belief that there is a sacred force in all things. By wearing such regalia in glorification and respect for the spirits of the Earth, their thoughts were that their elaborate public displays and festivities would bring good fortune to the people of the community. They considered their ceremonies and rituals essential for the community’s growth. Africans believe in a divine reciprocity, in that by dancing for the spirits they honored, their dancing spoke on many levels to communicate their appreciation for the roles these forces played in their lives. Dancing spoke in a way that they could communicate with Earth's spirits through the movement of their body rather than words. They believed the feeling felt during dance spoke more to the spirits than did spoken word.



In this month’s current issue of ARISE Magazine, their Music feature entitled, All the Right Moves, highlights the origins of the Angolan dance craze, kuduro, which has become a global phenomena since the late 1990s thanks to the advancement of technology. This mix of electronic house, samba, R&B, techno, and rap inspires the funniest dance craze around. Kuduro is Angolan techno, and  Kuduro means ‘hard ass’ in Portuguese. A hybrid of African polyrhythms and techno synth riffs, it originated in the Angolan capital, Luanda, in the late 80s. It has been a major force in Angolan music ever since, both at home and among the expatriate community living in Portugal. 

“Angola was made by music,” explains musicologist Stephanie Alisch, one of the leading authorities on kuduro. “During the Angolan War of Independence semba music helped create the national identity, called Angolanidade. Kuduro took over from samba and living it today is what produces that feeling of being Angolan…Kuduro is everywhere, from backyards in the poorest musseques right up to the glamourous galas hosted by the new rich elite. It is the pulse of a booming country rebuilding itself at a manic rate." The quintal, the traditional Angolan backyard party, all classes of Angola’s social classes eat, drink, dance, and smooch. Jose Eduardo Paulina (aka Du), owner of Semba Communications, says, “It’s one of the pillars of our culture. It’s when you are pushed into that circle of dancers that you learn to express yourself, urged on by your aunts and uncles. And it’s out of this magic circle that kuduro also comes.” The goal of kuduro is to create a positive frentic energy called "karga", the moment when a party hits a certain ecstatic pitch. Dance is a huge positive charge of pure energy, and joy. What more could one want in life that to experience pure joy. 

Os Kuduristas is a global program to promote and raise awareness of Angolan Kuduro music, dance, culture and lifestyleThe following photos come from their New York Show this past January
It is highly stereotypical to note that people of African descent can dance really well and have a somewhat innate sense of rhythm. It is also stereotypical to note that Black people are more prone to more often wear bright colors and funky patterns. What I learned about Black Psychology is that it is critical to acknowledge that human beings of African origin, as a group, have experiences a common core of stimuli that differ as a whole from those of other people of the world. These shared experiences result in a commonality of experience and results in ethnically distinct behavior, as we constantly adjust to the perceived world. The result is that both overt and covert behaviors produce values, standards, customs, and traditions that evidently become racially singular. 

In my fashion, just as dance is a way to express what cannot be said in Angolan culture, and in traditional African ceremonies, so does fashion and style for anyone who has something to prove to others - a perfect example of The Drum Major Instinct. Colorful clothing is an expression of energy, and African clothing exudes many beautiful colors which emit a positive energy. What I have found is that color tends to conjure smiles and positivity to those who are surrounded by it. When you wear bright colors with a positive aura to match, the people around you feel that energy and it is contagious, and it makes for the best social interactions. Perhaps that is the reason Black people are so unabashed to express their style and energy through bright clothing and funky patterns. Just like kuduro, fashion is a way to conjure “karga” for onlookers of our sartorial choices. As the Law of Harvest would have it, the energy you emit with your clothing is, in most cases, the energy you receive in return from those you interact with. In my fashion, if your style exudes joy and positive energy, you don’t have to know how to “pop, lock, and drop it” just to bring out positive energy in others.

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