For years, Black families dressed in their best African attire and visited the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) Theatre of the Arts to vibe to the intricate drum sounds and dance moves of the Farafina Kan Intergenerational West African Dance Company during its annual Birthright concert.
The drummers and dancers of Farafina Kan will return to UDC on the night of Aug. 17, bringing with them the experience of having visited and performed near the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana this year during the Back2Africa Festival, one of several “Year of the Return” activities for Africans living in the diaspora.
“The work we’re doing makes Africa feel closer,” said Diallo Sumbry, organizer of the Back2Africa Festival, in conjunction with the Ghana Tourism Authority, and founder and president of the Adinkra Group, an African cultural, entertainment and resource company through which Farafina Kan operates.
In 2014, Farafina Kan’s inaugural Birthright concert commemorated its 10-year anniversary as a conduit of West African cultural education. It has since garnered recognition as a marquee late-summer event. This year, the DuPont Brass Ensemble, originally comprised of Howard University alumni, will grace the stage along with Farafina Kan. Doors at the UDC Theatre of the Arts will open in the early afternoon for an African marketplace and subsequent VIP reception.
“Birthright has become [an event] where every group in D.C., regardless of spiritual system, could come through and appreciate Black culture,” added Sumbry, who, for the first time since its inception, directed Birthright’s marketing from Accra, Ghana, where he has served as African-American Tourism Ambassador since March. “[This is] an intergenerational family event where people take the night on the town and get fly.”
“The Year of the Return” marks 400 years since the arrival of enslaved Africans to Jamestown, Virginia, an event that’s often designated as the start of Africans’ centuries-long fight against oppression in the United States. The Ghanian government has used this occasion to encourage tourism and investment among African Americans and other members of the African diaspora, a goal on which they aligned with the Adinkra Group.
Toward the end of February and leading into Ghana Independence Day on March 6, the Adinkra Group brought more than 100 Black people from the D.C. metropolitan area, including members of Farafina Kan and CrossRhodes with Raheem DeVaughn and Wes Felton on the Back2Africa Tour. Both groups visited Accra, Kumasi and Cape Coast, showcasing their musical talent before large audiences. Last year, Backyard Band headlined the Back2Africa Tour. Months later, they performed at the 2018 Birthright concert, where Sumbry revealed scenes from an upcoming documentary chronicling the go-go band’s appearance.
The Back2Africa Festival and Birthright concert count among the Adinkra Group and Farafina Kan’s ongoing efforts to connect descendants of enslaved Africans to the West African culture lost during the Maafa. Throughout Farafina Kan’s 15-year existence, the Adinkra Cultural Arts Studio in Mount Rainier, Maryland, has served as its home base, where children and adults, many of whom have performed with Farafina Kan, participate in West African drumming and dancing workshops and classes.
Farafina Kan’s presence in the community has been of particular significance to Monica Utsey, a home-schooling mother whose two sons have practiced for a decade under the auspices of Baba Mahiri Fajima Keita-Edwards. In February, Utsey accompanied her children to Accra on what was her first trip to the African continent. On Aug. 17, she will sit among the audience members at the UDC Theatre of the Arts as both young men actualize their passion for the drumbeat once again.
“This is who they are,” Utsey said. “This is part of their culture that was stolen from them when our ancestors were forcibly brought to these shores. They’ve been blessed to reclaim that through the study of West African drum and dance. The young people of Farafina Kan have a responsibility to teach others who make fun of Africa and don’t understand that we’re African people and it’s something that should make us proud.”