Work it! Drummers, dancers evoke Africa
Saturday, July 17
Shebeen has been hosting music for a while, but for some reason I've avoided it as a venue. But when I got wind that the African Showboys were in town, it was imperative that I see the show. The African Showboys have come through town before, and I heard rumors about their act. One friend claimed I had missed the show of a lifetime.
I arrived at the venue and posted up near the bar with a direct line of sight to the back of the house where the performers were sitting. There were four, each equipped with a traditional West African instrument (two drums, a spherical shaker, and a banjo-shaped instrument with only a few strings). Each wore shells and beads around his ankles and arms so that every movement created rhythm and sound.
While three played, the remaining one danced in front– a dance that closely resembled a full-body workout. The dancer stomped syncopations to the rhythm with his bare feet, interspersing random jumps and leaps in time to the very quick pace of the drums and banjo. Just watching him made me tired.
The entire performance was equal parts physical and musical workout. The drumming was very quick and precise. Even the dude with the shaker kept his hands moving at a dizzying pace– so quickly, in fact, that at times they looked like a blur.
The Showboys played for a short hour, singing and dancing, strumming and drumming– capturing the attention of everyone in the room (except the bartender, who was busy heckling patrons at the top of his lungs). I threw out an inquiry as to where in Africa the boys were from. Someone speculated Ghana.
What a coincidence that my mother-in-law had just gone there to serve in the Peace Corps. I was suddenly envious of her. Then I remembered about schistosomiasis, a disease caused by a water parasite found there that causes debilitating diarrhea.
"Maybe I'll just make the most of Ghanaian culture from this bar stool," I thought to myself.
Just before the Showboys finished, they came around with a collection plate. Actually, three played a rhythm while one danced around the room with the basket. He stood at each table until someone coughed up some money. I was happy to ante up a little cash. They earned every penny.
When they finished, I turned to the bar to watch a little football (some of you may call it soccer) on the tube. With soccer on the TV, authentic African music and performers, and killer South African food, I almost believed I had been swept out of Charlottesville to a land far away.
But I was yanked back to reality by the bartender, who seemed to delight in ribbing his regulars. From the looks of things, they liked it. I had no beef with him, as he spotted me my ginger ale free of charge.
PHOTO BY DAMANI HARRISON