Grammy Award-winning percussionist Chief Ayanda Clarke is launching “True to Our Native Land,” a cultural appreciation program of the global African diaspora, at the Brooklyn Bank in Bedford Stuyvesant on Friday, December 14, and Saturday, December 15.
The event, named after the last line of the Black national anthem, aims to reconnect African Americans with their African heritage, Clarke explained.
“We all come from someplace,” Clarke said. “And while many people can speak to where their families hailed from, it’s important for African Americans to be able to do so, too. But oftentimes, it stops for us with slavery. ‘True to Our Native Land’ offers a way for us to understand who we are as African people in the diaspora and to connect to an understanding of ourselves that predates the thought that we were less than human.”
From an early age, Clarke understood this connection and credits his parent for passing the teachings of Pan-Africanism and Black nationalism on to him. The Bed-Stuy native started his artistic and cultural journey as a young child when his father, the acclaimed Jazz percussionist Chief Baba Neil Clarke, instructed him how to drum.
He went on to learn from other percussionists such as M’bemba Bangoura, Abraham K. Adzenyah, the late Orlando “Puntilla” Rios and Souleymane Diop, and has since expanded his research on African percussive arts while performing all over the world. Additionally, Clarke shares his expertise as a lecturer at institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, Hofstra University, Yale University and Princeton University.
His newest endeavor, “True to Our Native Land,” is a continuation of his life’s work, he said. The two-day event marks the beginning of a larger initiative that will bring cultural performances and community conversations to campuses around the country, with the hope to present a refreshed perspective of Africa.
“’True to Our Native Land’ is a way to ignite our understanding and passion for Africa and African culture, and to re-contextualize what we consider Africa to be,” Clarke said. “We want to share a fresh perspective particularly with our youth who may not know that their artistic expressions, such as rap, are connected to the ancient African tradition of oral literature.”
“True to Our Native Land” will kick off on Friday with spoken word, poetry and hip-hop performances, followed by a conversation on the artistic, cultural and spiritual use of words and language. Saturday’s program will unfold in two segments: One part will be dedicated to dance and movement, and the second part will focus on music and sound.
Guest speakers and performers will include actor, dancer and singer Adesola Osakalumi, who most notably performed as the lead in the Broadway musical Fela!; Emmy-nominated choreographer Jeffrey L. Page, who has worked with artists like Beyonce, R. Kelly, Jada and Will Smith; internationally acclaimed hip-hop cultural ambassador Toni Blackman and award-winning playwright Nsangou Njikam, among others.
“We’re bridging the gap between what happens in Brooklyn and what happens in places like Lagos, Nigeria, or Accra, Ghana,” said Clarke. “And we share that connection with the attendees for them not only to see it, but to really experience it.”
For more information and to get tickets, go here.