African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Breakin’ Convention 2013: Junior

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(ARISELIVE.com, April 2013)

Words Carinya Sharples  Photo credit Paul Hampartsoumian

For one weekend every year London dance venue Sadler’s Wells puts away the ballet shoes, flamenco skirts and leotards and gives free reign to a festival of street dance – with jaw-dropping shows, workshops, parties and more (see teaser video at bottom).

As the tenth edition of Breakin’ Convention prepares to pop, lock and boogie into town, we caught up with one of the international acts set to wow the crowds from 4-6 May.

Junior Bosila Banya aka Junior was born in Kinshasa, DRC, and moved to France age two to receive treatment after contracting polio. Since then he’s become a groundbreaking dancer; performing worldwide as a solo artist and with his crew Wanted Posse, and scooping up awards as easy as ice-cream – including World Champion at Battle Of The Year Germany in 2001 and winner of France Got Talent in 2007.

We spoke to the 32-year-old about his moves, what he’s looking forward to about Breakin’ Convention 2013 and how he came to dance for Madonna. Here are some of his thoughts…

I am looking forward to sharing a part of my passion for dancing through my solo show. I hope that I am going to be good enough to be on the main stage and able to captivate almost 2,000 people by myself. That will be a good challenge. I know how important it is to be in such a big hip hop festival.

The teams I’m hoping to see at Breakin’ Convention are Electric Boogaloos, Zamunda, ILL Abilities and Soul Mavericks.The Electric Boogallos because they are pioneers and the others because I’ve known most of their members for a long time from another competitions so I can’t wait to see them in a theatre-show environment.

I would describe my breaking style as unusual. I build it with my story, my inspirations and the energy that a crowd or any person can give.

Photo credit Mohamed Zerrouk

I’ve been to Breakin’ Convention three times before: twice with my crew Wanted Posse, and one time for another version of my solo BUANATTITUDE. I still perform with the Wanted Posse. My crew is 20 years old with almost 30 dancers.

The nicknames I have chosen are Buana, which I’ve had since I was 13 or 14, and Buanson from the Wanted Posse. The other names [such as Alien with Serial Crew Breakers] people gave to me. Some people even think that Junior is a nickname.

Thanks to my dance I have been able to visit 51 countries and I have been impressed by so many of them: Australia, Japan, Tahiti, Jordan, Cambodia… I had the privilege to dance for an emir of Dubai and big personalities. Another of my highlights was when I won France Got Talent [La France a un incroyable talent] in front of millions of viewers.

I had the opportunity to dance for Madonna two times. One time we did a show for her in a club. She liked it so we were invited to dance for her son’s birthday. She is a very friendly and open-minded person. I was so surprised to see how cool she is in the real world. And in the evening she invited us to eat at her home.

The ultimate place for me to dance would be… on a big stage like for the Super Bowl or in front of big personality. Why not the Queen!

My parents decided to leave Kinshasa because of the hard life over there. I have been back since; to see where I come from and to meet family. It was so nice to re-link with my roots – that gave me the courage to do my first solo. In Congo I felt this positive energy and dynamic that we often miss in our “developed countries”.

There is a street dance and a bboy scene in Kinshasa– they are very talented. I hope to organise a nice jam other there soon.

For the near future I am preparing my bboy team from Wanted Posse to win big battles; I’m working on my clothing brand, Buana; and I’m going to work with a company in Germany for maybe one year.

If I wasn’t a breakdancer…I would have been someone who would like to be a breakdancer!

Breakin’ Convention takes place at Sadler’s Wells in London from 4-6 May. For more information and to book tickets visit breakinconvention.com.

African arts, culture + politics

Inside the circle

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(ARISE magazine, Issue 16) When South African filmmaker Bryan Little was commissioned by Red Bull SA to shoot some short films for its Beat Battle, he was so amazed by the talented township street-dance crews he met that he decided they warranted a feature-length documentary. The result, The African Cypher, won the Audience Award for Best South African Film at this year’s Encounters Documentary Festival, was selected for the 2012 Durban International Film Festival and has rightly attracted a lot of interest overseas.

“The Cypher is the circle, especially in b-boy culture, where the battles and expression take place,” explains Little. “The name developed out of a sense that the circles, formed when people dance informally, are places of power, expression and identity”. The film takes the viewer around South Africa – predominantly Soweto, Orange Farm, Mohlakeng, Cape Town and the Cape Flats. “These areas are mostly known for being low-income or impoverished areas,” says the director. “But our experience was one of incredible richness in culture, courage and hospitality. We really tried to integrate ourselves into the lives of the dancers and the communities from a place of respect”.

The result is an intimate, candid and electric record of a vibrant dance scene, and likely to propel its protagonists into the spotlight. Prince and Mada of featured pantsula crew Shakers & Movers are now working on a theatre piece and have teamed up with the Cape Town b-boy crew. “Before the Red Bull event the b-boys had never seen pantsula [dance] and the pantsulas had only seen really bad attempts at b-boying in Soweto,” says Little. “Now they are performing together we might see some pantsula footwork in the b-boy six-step and, who knows, some flares in pantsula. In South Africa there’s an incredible propensity for innovation so there is no limit to what can happen.”

facebook.com/theafricancypher

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Senegal in London: Sabar Dance Classes

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(Visit London, 10 October 2011) Senegalese director and choreographer Diene Sagna moved to the UK four years ago to run his own dance company, Yaye Dib Sabar. He also holds sabar dance classes in London:

“Sabar is the drum, and also the dance – they go together. Of all the dances in the world that I know, it’s only sabar where you have to be in the air all of the time! You have to be light but also energetic and powerful. In the past it used to be just women who danced but now men are dancing sabar too.

“I’ve been dancing for a long time. When I was six years old I won a competition and after that, even though I was also going to school, dancing was my focus. When I was 17 I started to work professionally, going to Europe and working with big artists. I’ve worked with Youssou N’Dour, dancing on his video for 4444. I’ve also toured and performed with [bestselling Senegalese singer] Coumba Gawlo Seck.

“There are a lot of different African dance classes in London. They used to be mainly from Ghana or Nigeria, but now I can see the interest in Senegalese dance is increasing. It’s hard to make African dance respected in Europe – people think it’s just for fun. You can find contemporary and hip hop dance in the big theatres, but not this West African dance. I want to bring it onto the stage, that’s my fight.

“In London this June we held the first Yaye Dib Sabar International event, a weekend of Afro-dance workshops called Jump for Joy! We will be holding this every year in memory of my mum (who died in 2009) as a way of celebrating not only her life but also West African culture and in particular Sabar dance and drumming.

“I invite all students, from London and the UK as well as Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Belgium where I do workshops every year. I also organise an annual two-week dance training holiday in Dakar, Senegal, called Kaye Fecc, meaning Come Dance. The next one will be from 23 January to 4 February 2012.

“When my students see sabar they say it’s powerful, fast, fun and energetic also. But some people also say sabar is harder because they cannot understand the timing, the breaks. People also say sabar is the most difficult West African dance because it’s changing every week in Senegal. If I stay in UK for two years without going to Senegal I’m going to be lost! That’s why I go every year and spend two or three months there, finding out what’s new.”

The next Yaye Dib Sabar dance and drumming class in London is on Sunday 23 October 2011 at Studio 68 dance studio. More information

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/10/senegal-in-london-sabar-dance-classes/

African arts, culture + politics · London culture

Ghana in London: Nzinga Dance

Credit: Ludo des Cognets
Credit: Ludo des Cognets

(Visit London, 11 March 2011) For the latest in our World in London series, we put on our dancing shoes and spoke to Deanna Michel-de Sousa, leader of African performing arts ensemble Nzinga Dance, which teaches African drumming and dance at south London’s Horniman Museum

What does Nzinga Dance do?

Our main remit is bringing African history, culture and tradition to life – telling its story with dance and music. The classes are about coming along and learning traditional dance and drumming – and about their importance in African culture – but in a fun and creative way.

We do lots of performances at the museum and elsewhere too – for Refugee Week, Adult Learners’ Week, at summer festivals… We’re not just at the Horniman!

Are all the Nzinga teachers Ghanaian?

There’s a mixture of people, mainly Ghanaian and a couple of us from St Lucia – the one person that isn’t is from Pakistan, so there you go! We’re an African-Caribbean group but a lot of what we teach and perform is from Ghana.

Ghanaian dance is a big part of what we do. In terms of African dance culture, Ghana has prolific dancers and musicians. You have one country but within that country so many different nations – whether it’s Ewe, Ashanti or Ga – and each has their own style. You find literally hundreds of dances and that’s what’s quite unique about Ghanaian dance and drumming – there’s a lot to learn and pick from as well. So within one course, we may say to people we’re teaching Ghanaian dance but that can include completely different styles.

Who comes to your dance classes? Ghanaians living in London or a mixture of people?

We get a mix of people, although we do have Ghanaian students who come along that haven’t learnt so much about their culture in that respect and just feel that they really want to touch base and learn.  It’s nice that people want to come along – both Ghanaian and non-Ghanaian – and learn about African culture in a creative way, and in a really social atmosphere.

What do your students think about the course?

Most of them say they enjoy coming along because it’s a non-competitive atmosphere and they feel that what they’re learning is authentic. We can be specific – we can say you’ve learnt Kpanlogo dance from this place in Ghana – and they like that feeling of knowing what they’ve been taught and the significance of it in history and culture. For example, that when I’m dancing this step, it means this or that.

I think we get lots of students, too, because of the live drumming [the djembe drummers who accompany the dance classes]. Not knocking anyone who uses a CD, but I think it being authentic is a big part of drawing people. I think that’s why we’re still going strong.

See Nzinga Dance (and their students) perform at the Nzinga Dance Ensemble Concert on 27 March 2011 at Horniman Museum. The next term of Nzinga dance and drumming courses for adults and children at Horniman Museum begin on 1 May 2011.

Do you know anywhere else you can experience Ghanaian culture in London? Let us know in the comments below.

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2011/03/ghana-in-london-nzinga-dance/

London culture

Markus The Sadist at Bloomsbury Theatre (review)

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(Visit London, 19 May 2010) It’s going to be hard watching hip hop videos without a heavy dose of cynicism after seeing Markus the Sadist at Bloomsbury Theatre last night.

Created by Jonzi D – the man behind Sadler’s Wells‘ street dance sensation Breakin Convention – Markus The Sadist is a darkly comic diatribe against the fakery of the music industry.

Talented London emcee Markus (played by real-life grime artist Ashley “Bashy” Thomas) is spotted at a local hip hop battle and promised fame and fortune. Success comes at a price though, namely abandoning his intelligent lyrics and adopting a groin-grabbing rap persona and a sneering American accent.

Markus’ transformation from wide-eyed boy next door to hip hop stereotype is hilarious yet uncomfortably recognisable. One of the best moments is Markus’ first video shoot, when the flamboyant director (played by the scene-stealing Rob Broderick) demands the ubiquitous rap-star props of guns, bling and scantily-clad women dancers (“otherwise I’m shooting a documentary”).

Halfway through many scenes, you realise all the characters are talking in rhyme – which works surprisingly well. The musical thread is strengthened with jazz saxophonist Soweto Kinch as composer/musical director, while much of the cast are clearly talented artists in their own right.

There were a number of technical hiccups that need tightening and the play could be shorter and tighter. But on the whole, Markus The Sadist makes for a fresh, intelligent addition to the British theatre scene. Interested? Don’t hang about – the last performance is tomorrow night (Thursday)! Buy tickets (£14-£17.50) at http://www.thebloomsbury.com

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/markus-the-sadist-at-bloomsbury-theatre/

London culture

Breaking free: London’s Best Dance Crew

The Definitives at London’s Best Dance Crew 2010. Bruce Woods of Tactical Innovations Limited
The Definitives at London’s Best Dance Crew 2010. Bruce Woods of Tactical Innovations Limited

(Visit London, 4 May 2010) If you’re into street dancing, this weekend was designed for you. Breakin’ Convention returned to Sadler’s Wells with another top UK and international line-up, while over in Croydon the finals of London’s Best Dance Crew set Fairfield Halls alight – nearly literally, when organisers thought the stage curtains had caught fire!

For months, young dancers across London have been honing their routines and competing to reach Friday’s final. The atmosphere backstage on the night was one of nervous excitement, as last minute rehearsals were squeezed in and costumes tweaked.

Three groups battled it out in the first half. Trilogy’s fresh take on West Side Story earned them third place and they bowed out with a slick piece that made you realise how tough the competition was.

A fierce, African-inspired performance from The Definitives, featuring a troupe of drummers from London group Maracatu Estrela do Norte, and a hard-hitting show tackling bullying from Retaliation took these two groups into the final.

While we waited for the final showdown, we were treated to shows from a series of top performers – including former Sugababes singer Mutya Buena, Avant Garde and Peridot.

Then, finally, it was time for the final showdown. It was a close call, but in the end it was The Definitives who impressed the judges most. They were presented with a trophy and cheque for £3,000 by Private Johnson Beharry, the first soldier to be awarded a Victoria Cross since 1982.

And if two great street dance shows in one weekend wasn’t enough, the UK dance film Streetdance 3D is out at cinemas from 21 May. It’s time to invest in some lessons in popping, locking and breaking!

http://blog.visitlondon.com/2010/05/breaking-free-londons-best-dance-crew/