Since its creation, Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble has established a national reputation as a unique and dynamic performing company. Kulu Mele’s repertoire is an exciting blend of West African ancestral tradition and African American creativity. Performances include music and dance of Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Senegal, Brazil, Haiti, Cuba and African America. A force behind a vital African cultural renaissance in Philadelphia, the Ensemble teaches and performs both new and traditional works. All dances are authentically costumed and choreographed to convey not only artistic excellence but also the meanings of dancing and drumming in the African societies from which these traditions come.
HISTORY AND MISSION
Kulu Mele African American Dance Ensemble has for more than 30 years been a vital driving force behind the African cultural renaissance in Philadelphia. The company presents African American dance traditions rooted in the cultures and aesthetic values of the African Diaspora, blending West African ancestral traditions and African American creativity. Kulu Mele draws on the musical and movement forms of Brazil, Haiti, Cuba, Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana, and the Senegambia region, as well as African American vernacular traditions including Hip-hop, Bop, Cha-cha, and Slop. Performances and workshops vividly convey to audiences (and especially to young people) both the artistic excellence in their midst and the meanings of dancing and drumming in the African and African Diasporan societies from which these traditions come. Vibrant dances are always presented with authentic and compelling costumes; choreography is developed by company members, and by master dancers and choreographers from home countries. Kulu Mele has kept the culture alive.
Kulu Mele is the fruit of many people’s dreams. There is a strong feeling of extended family among Kulu Mele members. Most of us have been keeping the culture, perpetuating African culture together, for many decades. We are committed to learning. Since our beginnings thirty years ago, Kulu Mele members have searched out unparalleled educations in discrete drum and dance traditions from the Diaspora. To learn, preserve and continue this priceless community heritage of music and dance, Kulu Mele members have apprenticed themselves to older recognized masters and artists, traveling to study music and dance, and to become immersed in the cultures and traditions of Senegal, Guinea, Cuba and elsewhere. Apprenticeships and study tours include: Orisha dance apprenticeship in Cuba with Cutumba (2002); Senegambian Dance Apprenticeship in Guinea with M’Bemba Bangoura (2000); Company Apprenticeship in Guinean dance with Tenenfig Dioubate (2003); Apprenticeship in Senegalese dance with Assane Konte (2004).
Kulu Mele offers a wide range of workshops in African diasporan dance and music—from single session participatory programs and lecture-demonstrations to long-term residencies. We teach specific dances (along with rhythms and music), dance and drum technique, related dress and cultural protocols, the interrelationship of drum rhythms and dance, and the particular values and traditions that inform songs and dances. As well, when working with young people we teach, from our own experiences, how to find and follow a dream and how to develop creativity and artistic potential.
Kulu Mele is on the rosters of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts- Arts in Education Program, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour (PennPAT), and Young Audiences of Southeastern Pennsylvania roster. Kulu Mele members have been teaching in the Philadelphia Folklore Project’s Folk Arts and Multicultural Education program for six years. Help in funding residencies and performances: Some of these programs, including PCA-AIE and Penn-PAT, have grant programs through which subsidies for Kulu Mele workshops and performances may be available. Contact Kulu Mele for more information.