Telling the tales
Afro-Brazilian dance group visually narrates historic accounts
Just one facet of a week-long Brazilian heritage celebration, the Barbea Williams Afro-Brazilian Dance Group performed yesterday in observance of 500 years of Portuguese inhabitation in Brazil.
"Brazil is 500 years old, ya'll, some of us won't live beyond 65," said Barbea Williams, founder of the dance group. "It's time to celebrate in the zawba line."
Almost 250 UA students and faculty, Tucson community members and students from Mansfeld Middle School showed their spirit by either clapping hands, swaying to the sound of the drums or dancing.
Williams began by telling the crowd she wanted to take them on a journey away from their everyday life and into Brazilian lands.
"I'd like to begin to take us to South America," she said.
She began by telling how "different Brazil is because when we dance today these are cities that have large populations of African descent."
Her story was matched with the bombing sound of a single drum mixed with tinkling tones of a variety of instruments.
Psychology junior Jonathan Haley said "I can't even stay still, it's something in the blood."
Haley, who said he is not from Brazil and is not African but is a dancer, said he felt a connection with the music.
"The music is very ethnic - I've never seen this one before, that's why I am here," he said, adding that the combination of the African and Latin cultures makes it all the more intriguing.
Sponsored by 10 University of Arizona departments, the cultural exhibition means to "tap into a little bit and bring it to the UA," said Maria Carmen Lemos, assistant Latin American studies research professor.
"Most of the culture has strong African roots because of the slavery and the contributions from African cultures," Lemos said. "This is an example of the African roots on the culture."
Williams, who began the dance group about 27 years ago, lead the group and educated the audience with her narrative account of the dances and their history.
The group, consisting of about six females and two males, performed through sound and movement, "Djole," "Ijemanya" and "Frero," all of which are visual historical narratives.
Consisting of stories about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, freedom and educational learning by observing the elders, the narratives incorporated instruments that were often used as props.
Williams told the crowd that "Frero" is a "carnival dance, and we're about to go into carnival season so we're about to warm you up."
During the final dance, Williams asked onlookers to clap their hands and sway to the rhythm before closing the ceremony with a conga line.
"The music is mandatory - you don't dance this style of dance without group participation because it's a part of the culture," Williams said. "You don't separate the music from the dance."
Kohei Higo, a UA political science senior, said he felt much more entertained by the Barbea Williams Afro-Brazilian Dance Group than any other campus performance that he had ever seen because it was so energetic.
"The other events are usually very boring because they are just singing," Higo said. "I like their clothing and they are dancing."
Higo added that he had never seen so many people during an outdoor university event and that he admired the group's decision to "give us a chance to participate onstage."
Dancing with swaying arms, gently stomping the ground with her feet and eyes closed, psychology junior Katie Kendrick said she just happened to hear the music after leaving work and decided to stop by.
"It's amazing, it's wonderful, it's good music, it's a celebration," Kendrick said, still dancing.
La Monica Everett-Haynes can be reached at La.Monica.Everett-Hayes@wildcat.arizona.edu.