Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sabar, The Movie @ LA's Pan-African Film Festival

A few years ago, when I saw an online notice that they were seeking African-American dancers for a feature film called, Sabar, I forwarded it to dancers I knew in LA. Two days later, at rehearsal, my dear backing vocalist, Lambert Moss, looked me square in the eye and said, “Ashley, you have GOT to fly up to Oakland and audition for that movie. You are an excellent sabar dancer … in fact … you, Kara (Mack), AND Alecia (Hudson) should go.” This made me burst out laughing. Me? Alecia? Audition? But they specifically asked for African-American dancers. Lambert, bless him, was adamant.


So sure enough, a few weeks later, Alecia, Kara, and I made our way up to Oakland. We walked in and signed up, blithely ignoring the women-behind-the-desk’s raised eyebrows, and trying not to look nervous.

The auditions were simple. Alassane Kane gave us choreography and we danced, then introduced ourselves on camera. The film’s Nigerian director Chike Nwoffiah later told us that he and his producer were super surprised to see these two white girls in the midst of everyone, throwing down! Alecia, Kara, and I all danced really well and were accepted for the movie. Waaw Waaw!!

with director Chike Nwoffiah at the L.A.’s Pan-African Film Festival screening in L.A.Photobucket

Sabar, The Movie’s synopsis reads thus: “An African American hip-hop girl resists the ancestral call of the Senegalese dance "Sabar". When she finally gives in, she discovers more than a dance - she finds herself.” Chike fell in love with the energy and beauty of sabar at the Malonga Casquelourd Performing Arts Center in Oakland and did a beautiful job weaving it into his story.

For the film, Kara, Alecia, and I were extras. We danced in the background for the movie’s class scenes, rehearsal scenes, and the final show. The cast and crew were fantastically nice, Bunmi DeRosario (lead actress and BOMB dancer) was awesome, and both weekends’ worth of filming were so fun and hilarious, I came home to LA with a sore throat from laughing.

Kara Mack, Yours Truly, and Alecia Hudson at my own show at The Conga RoomPhotobucket

When filming the final show, I asked Chike what he had in mind for costumes? He assured me that costumes would be provided. Half and hour later, he distributed them to the dancers and mine fit into my hand like a small stack of handkerchiefs. ???????? When I looked up, as if to say, “This? A loin cloth and black bra covered in cowrie shells?” Chike laughed out loud and replied, “You signed on the dotted line … now go and put it on!”

I solemnly walked downstairs to the dressing room as if going to my execution, imagining spotlights hitting my lone, alabaster white skin onstage (Alecia couldn’t make that filming). I was going to blind the audience! LOL! With mock gravity, I unzipped my bag, pulled out an industrial strength bottle of tanning lotion and insisted that Kara slop it all over my body from head to toe. With the crew photographer snapping away, she and I were helpless with laughter.

Man, that night was really liberating for me, as I had no choice but to transcend all my fears and nerves and just DANCE. Normally, I don’t wear revealing things, yet here I was, wearing not much more than a bottle of tanning lotion (as my mum would say in her British accent, “Nothing left to the imagination!”) dancing in front of a packed house for cameras that would carry my image to big screens everywhere. Brilliant!

SOOOO, all this time later, Chike brought Sabar, The Movie to The Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles. We all went down to see it and had a wonderful evening. The audience enjoyed the film, Chike was in top form, Kara made me fall about laughing as usual, and we all took photos on the red carpet afterwards. I am not sure I really merited The Red Carpet, as all that was left of me in the final edit was a handful of shots of my alabaster love handles and red hair flying in and out of view, but I loved it! My daughter, Koyan, had spent the whole movie yelping, “There you are! There you are again! You look great, Mom!” by my side, bless her.

I wish the movie well. Well done, Chike and crew! Sabar dafa neex!!

Rocking The Red Carpet, Baby!Photobucket

with actor Curtis Campbell, Sunny Moore, and her friend VanessaPhotobucket

Dance Goddess Kara Mack, my beloved daughter, Koyan, director Chike Nwoffiah, and LA drum prodigy, Kahlil CummingsPhotobucket

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ottawa and Montreal for Elage Mbaye and Oumar Ndiaye's Concerts

Senegalese artist Elage Mbaye and his producer, Abdou Sy, invited me to Ottawa, Canada, last weekend for the release of Elage’s new CD, Askane. Elage and I recorded a cover of Youssou N’Dour’s classic song, Pitch Mi, as a duet, for the record.

After flying from LA to Detroit, I caught a tiny plane to Ottawa. Passport control at Ottawa waved me along to be grilled by an immigration officer … which was a novel experience. For years, I have heard so many stories about my African friends and husband enduring such interrogations, I was almost proud of the Canadians for pulling over a NON-African! Go Canada!

The more I answered his questions, the more suspicious I could feel myself sounding. How long are you staying? One weekend. Who are you staying with? Elage Mbaye. How did you meet? MySpace. How long ago? Two years. Maybe I was smuggling something or someone into Canada or out of Canada or …. huh? My cellphone rang and he barked at me not to answer it. I remarked that wow, this was really interesting. What had triggered me as suspicious? And, by the way, did he know I was born in Montreal?

With that, he glanced back tensely at my passport where it read PLACE OF BIRTH: CANADA and looked embarrassed. Oh. No worries. I thanked him and said I understood and yay for Canada for pulling me over and he looked even more confused.

It was a bumpy start to a wonderful weekend. Elage and his family lived in a lovely house with snow everywhere. They all laughed at my meager coat and scarf before furnishing me with proper Canadian gear! I walked every day outside with bright skies above. So great!


Friday night, we rehearsed at Elage’s producer, Abdou Sy’s place. Abdou on keyboards, Elage singing and playing tama, Clarence Smith (from Philadelphia) on bass, and N’Sa Fall and his girlfriend Marie there as “groupies.” What a fun and festive night!

with Elage MbayePhotobucket

At rehearsal, Clarence Smith was a cauldron of sunny energy. Coming in out of the snow with a bass and guitar over his shoulder and a drum machine in one hand, he cooked up groove after slamming groove that was “straight out of Philly.” …. or hitched his energy to the bubbly mbalax singing from Abdou’s keyboard.

with the irrepressible Clarence Smith Photobucket

Elage’s show was Heaven: packed, international, and festive. He had a wonderful mix of musicians from all over Africa (Senegal, Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Canada, and more) and the vibe between them all was joyous and generous. Apart from singing my duet with Elage and improvising during his new Song for Haiti, I mostly danced down front. Three Senegalese party mamas named Tako, Ndeye Coumba, and Adja were my instant allies. Decked out in beautiful bazin, those three knew how to throw DOWN!

with Ndeye Coumba and TakoPhotobucket

Tako in particular was hilarious … I loved how they’d insist the crowd step back to give them space and then we’d launch into another improvised dance comedy scene. Everyone had a chance to shine. So great! Got to bed at 4am!

Tako in chargePhotobucket

with producer, Abdou SyPhotobucket

On Sunday, Abou, Elage, and I drove to Montreal for Oumar “Xosluman” Ndiaye’s show at Balattou. Beautiful drive through the Canadian countryside and I was happy in the backseat watching Youssou N’Dour’s Montreaux concert on Abdou’s laptop. I smiled to watch Riche Faye dancing with his trademark joy and confidence at such a young age. He must have been about 14! What an amazing show! Abdou, Elage and I talked about mbalax mbalax mbalax, watched videos, chatted about dancers and Dakar. Sigh. SO FUN! We stopped briefly at Ndeye Coumba’s house in Montreal for food and more fierce mbalax videos before heading over to Balattou!

Another wonderful night! I was happy to see Oumar Ndiaye’s wife, Marie-Helène at the door, as they had been so hospitable to me the last time I was in Montreal. We made our way across the packed room to the bar and Oumar said from the mic, “Tonight, we have a special guest all the way from California! We love her because she loves Senegal … and dances better than most of us! Ash-LAY Ma-YER!” To my shameless delight, all the Senegalese were looking around like, “Ash-LAY? Where? Where?” Oh Oumar, je t'adore!

In fact, some of Montreal’s finest Senegalese musicians were at the club that night. I was thrilled to see Zale Seck (I recorded the backing vocals for his last CD) and his brilliant guitarist son, Assane. I last saw Assane at Just 4 U in Dakar, backing Yoro Ndiaye, and here he was onstage with Oumar. Such a beautiful spirit and WHAT TALENT!!!!

with Zale Seck and his talented guitarist son, Assane SeckPhotobucket

Assane and Oumar “Xosluman” NdiayePhotobucket

The evening was a full blown party! The grooves were on fire, I solo-ed and sang, everyone was happy to be together, the Senegalese ALL got up and danced, Zale played drums, Elage Mbaye and Elage Diouf (of Les Freres Diouf) guested alongside excellent sabar drummer Amar Fall to cook up some BURNING sabar. Elage Mbaye later looked at his cracked / painful left thumb and said, “Wow, I haven’t played that hard in a looooonnnng time!” Neexna neexna neexna torop torop torop!

with Elage Diouf, Amar Fall, and Abdou SyPhotobucket

After a two hour drive home and a hot shower, I gratefully crawled under Elage’s son’s Godzilla duvet for a very good night’s sleep. Plane home the next day to the sunshine in Los Angeles. Ah, I love my life!

my Godzilla duvet at Elage’s house!Photobucket