When Delina Patrice Brooks got the call to audition for the new movie about the Bay area African dance community, she didn’t have to think twice. “Anything that helps to promote, preserve and expose the beauty of African dance gets an easy "yes" from me,” says the local dancer and artist. She wound up in a supporting role in Sabar, a film which screens at the Museum of the African Diaspora Fri/23, and which highlights an important cultural movement in the Bay. “The film was very reflective of our community,” says Brooks, whose been an advocate of, and participant in, the traditional artistic form for over a decade.
Sabar’s creator and director, Nigerian filmmaker Chike Nwoffiah, initially set out to make a documentary on the local dance scene that captivated him with it’s vibrant sights and sounds. Flush with dance classes and performances, the Bay’s African dance -- a form which has a subgenre known as "sabar" -- culture is unprecedented in the US.
“African dance is huge in the Bay area,” says Eboni Hawkins, director of see.think.dance, which promotes connections between urban communities, artists and dance productions. “Out of all dance communities in the US, we [in the Bay] are really known for traditional dance.”
After hearing of the social connotations and intense spiritual communion that many African dancers take from their art, Nwoffiah, who at one point commented “my heart was bleeding sabar,” decided that his story could be best told in a dramatic arc.
Check out Sabar's trailer
The film he brought forth follows Aisha (played by the talented Bunmi DeRosario, a real life regular in the Bay’s traditional dance scene), a hip hop dancer who comes to sabar, a dance that originally comes from Senegal, more or less by accident. She’s surprised to find that the rhythms of the drums awaken within her some kind of rememberance -- or is it destiny? -- or excitement lacking in her modern world. She’s swept into the orbit of the dance, and the pattern of her daily life is forever changed.
For advocates of African dance, its not an unbelievable awakening. “There are people that come to dancing late in life, and they find that they become a part of something larger than themselves,” says Hawkins. “This is a really tight community, and it can be very welcoming.”
Watching Sabar, which has been screening across the world since its premiere at the 2009 Pan-African Film & Television Festival in Burkina Faso, you begin to understand the draw of traditional African dance; the bright fabrics, the clacking of cowries mixing with the bottomless reverberations of the djembe drums, the communal nature of multi dancer performances. The movie Sabar was honored with the best feature film and audience choice awards at the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in Atlanta.
Hawkins calls Sabar a great “introductory point” for those unacquainted with the dance -- and Brooks is quick to make the connection for those that like what they see. When asked what she would share with people about the making of the movie, she had an invitation to extend. “For anyone who enjoys moving their body, come dance with us! It's intimidating at first -- absolutely -- but it's invigorating." She cited the workout potential of the art form, and finished up with an affirmation. “Just like in the film, the drums are captivating and the moves just -- they just feel good.”
Fri/23 5 & 7:30 p.m., free with $10 museum admission
Museum of the African Diaspora
685 Mission, SF