Kuku on Taps
KuKu on Taps (2017)
KuKu is traditionally a circle dance and drum rhythm with origins of West Africa, that is used to celebrate harvest and other celebratory events. Performed by women and two djembes, I wanted to recreate this powerful dance using percussive dancers. In KuKu on Taps, we mash up tap dance, stepping, body percussion and vocal percussion. The women represent mothers, wives and sisters, while the men represent the heartbeat of the drum. The djembe was inspired by women’s work with mortar and pestle hence the shape of the drum. The drum rhythms developed from clap pattern of the woman then translated onto the drum.
In 2015, I started building Kuku on Taps with the goal to translate the rhythms of the drum back to the human body, using percussive dance. In 2017, I’ve invested time and energy in the redeveloping KuKu on Taps. I presented the new adaptation as part of a full stage production at, Dance Place, in Washington, D.C. titled Zaz: The Big Easy. Following the show, I had the opportunity to sit with the audience, hear their feedback and go back to the drawing board with a new perspective.
With this new perspective, I wanted to continue to develop the show, which I classify as a “percusical”, a percussive dance musical. I teamed up with the brilliant choreographer Quynn Johnson. Johnsons is a graduate of Howard University with credits such as Savion Glover’s Tap Company, Cirque Du Soleil’s One Drop, and the National Tour of Broadway’s After Midnight. In a joint effort, we took KuKu on Tap back into the studio and began to dissect each section. After carefully analyzing the footage and music, we decided it was equally important to incorporate West African movement to the translated rhythms. We also, added new subdivisions and polyrhythms to enhance the overall quality of the work.
Connecting the opening song Niakhaling Ba to the rest of the work became the next challenge. We commissioned music powerhouse Tamar Greene, a friend and world-renowned performing artist to help bring our idea to life. Tamar holds his M.M. from the Eastman School of Music in Vocal Performance and Literature; along with a B.A in music with a focus in Piano Performance. When I approached Tamar, we had an idea however didn’t know how to bring it to life, but Tamar did! We spent hours doing research, including interviews with natives, watching footage online and interviews with local African drummers and dancers to insure we upheld the true traditions of the song while adding our contemporary approach.
The fusion of minds, art and talent created the new Kuku on Taps; which premiered at The Lincoln Center’s Clark Theater in November 2017.