Sankofa is a word from the Twi language spoken by the Ashanti people of Ghana that translates to English as “return and fetch it,” but also referring to a much longer proverb: it is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten. The word can also be expressed as a glyph within the Ashanti Adinkra tradition of symbol-making as a stylized heart or as a bird in forward motion, reaching behind with an egg held in its beak. These signifiers all refer to the idea of return and recollection, reflection on the past as to learn for the future. Sankofa means that whatever has been lost or forgotten or left can be revived and brought to light; from bringing past to present one can learn to advance armed with knowledge and knowing. Sankofa, in all its forms and manifestations, exists currently in the United States as an important symbol of African-American introspection and the shared name of organizations across America meant to bring enlightenment of black culture.
Our very own chapter presents Testimonies in Melanin Magic, a multimedia exploration of the wake of African diaspora, here and abroad. The show is a collection of performances, both live and recorded, taking shape as spoken word, acted skit, a capella, dance and documentary. The show winds through about twelve vignettes focusing on the many facets of black living. Live skits confront the nuances and challenges faced by the African-American community, ranging from hair to hate. A student dance samples the many forms of Afro inspired music, styling and dance. Between segments, an unseen narrator reflects on the pieces while introducing commentary and thought into the show. The whole thing reads as wholly conscious, all aware of the good and bad known to black men and women worldwide. You, as an audience member, are given a real glimpse into lives not your own, lives very different and far.
As much as Bates brings the show to life, a sizable portion of the content is recorded and imported. Some of the show’s high points do not belong to the students or performers or anybody in the room, but to the distant creators of the visual works (these are several small documentary pieces and poetry readings). It’s an odd feeling. These pieces are fine and bring attention to the issues meant to be exposed, but at the price of outsourcing. But again, it is better to have than to have not.
The show is indeed an exploration. A look into the artistic manifestations of the African diaspora. The show presents itself as aware, in the most painful way. The whole thing begins with an exposé of the danger of living in America. The most repugnant memories of brutality and violence in this country are refreshed with a dark, silent video. The student performers walk onto stage, in voiceless recognition and solidarity, fists raised. So sets the tone of the performance: knowing, wincing, angry. Despite it all, the fear and algesia, light shines through. Humor and energy sparkle in the hollow darkness. Energy does not leave. Happiness does not either. The idea of Sankofa lives freely and brightly, reminding one and all, that there are lessons in the past and life (precious, gracious life) in the future.