It's All About 'DJEMBE! The Show'
As part of an international tour, the high-energy musical experience brings its level of excitement to Chicago
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Kelvin Roston Jr., Alfred H. Wilson, A.C. Smith and David Alan Anderson are Ma Rainey's musicians, and (below) Peter Moore and Thomas J. Cox are at the center of the chaos.
Rashada Dawan, Ben Hope and Fodé Lavia Camara in "DJEMBE! The Show," and (below) Hope involves the audience with some drumming patterns.
FROM the very beginning at the U.S. premiere of “Djembe! The Show” inside Chicago’s Apollo Theater, lead singer Rashada Dawan made it crystal clear regarding what was about to happen: “No matter where you’re from or what language you speak, the rhythm is gonna get you!”
Judging from the crowd’s reaction to the beat of the djembe (pronounced JEM-bay) drums, she was exactly right. “Djembe! The Show!” described as a theatrical concert and runs through June 9, is loud, it’s lively and it’s fun––an interactive experience that gives the audience a joyful opportunity to add its own beat to the musical celebration. With a djembe at each seat, theatergoers are not only encouraged to participate, they are expected to do so.
In this concert, there's a combination of music and the stories that highlight the history of the djembe, which originated in West Africa in the 12th century. Its beat has significantly influenced music patterns in many countries around the world, including Algiers, Cuba, Germany and South Korea. Further, and perhaps surprising to some observers, the djembe is associated with the development of various music genres such as samba, ragtime and even swing.
In “Djembe! The Show,” which already has received international acclaim, a trio of Broadway veterans lead the musical journey that travels from ancient drumming to rock, pop, rap and much in-between. Ben Hope, perhaps known best for his lead role in the Tony Award-winning show Once, is the emcee, drummer and drum instructor for the audience. At his side is lead vocalist Dawan, born and raised on the South Side, and whose long list of theater credits include touring for four years with Disney’s The Lion King. (Her strong and melodious voice fills the theater with the sounds of West Africa.) Joining those two is master drummer Fodé Lavia Camara, a folklorist, percussionist and choreographer who is on a mission to preserve West African traditions.
During the show, the storytelling is captivating and the music touches the soul, but for some audience members, the real fun begins when Hope and Camara illustrate drumming patterns for those seated in the theater, and before long the Apollo is booming with the thunderous sounds of hundreds of background musicians supporting the ensemble on stage. “When there is an audience of 400 people all making music together, the experience is transformative and uplifting,” says Doug Manuel, who along with Ashley DeSimone are the “Djembe” presenters. “What we have created is world-class entertainment, but with an important message [of communication].”
At the core of “Djembe! The Show” is its illustration of the importance of collaboration and community, highlighting––if just for a few moments––how harmoniously people with varying concerns, issues and problems can work together. Perhaps that’s what Dawan meant in the beginning, saying: “The rhythm is gonna get you!”
"DJEMBE! The Show" is performed at the Apollo Theater on Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. For more information and tickets, go to www.apollochicago.com.
"We are delighted to present the U.S. premiere of DJEMBE! in Chicago, where we have found initial audiences to be very enthusiastic. DJEMBE! is such a fun and uplifting journey that I think individuals, friends and families all want to experience it right now, and our audiences are confirming this [nightly]."
Photographs by Liz Lauren