As the sun sets July 24, drumming will fill the woods of Dogwood Dell in Byrd Park, and Ezibu Muntu will mesmerize and educate its audience with the rhythms, movement, and spirit of Africa. Ezibu Muntu African Dance and Cultural Foundation, a multidisciplinary arts and culture group with studios downtown, are Thursday night’s featured performers in the 52nd Annual Festival of the Arts. Saturday afternoon from 12 to 12:30, they will perform at the Intercultural Festival of Petersburg.
Founded in 1973, Ezibu Muntu, whose name is Swahili for “the universality of all people,” has since become a regional favorite. In nearly forty years of performance and educational programs, the collaboration of drummers, dancers, artisans, and entertainers has reached residents throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond with its positive expression of some of the values and traditions of Africa. Wearing traditional costumes, beads, and headdresses while accompanied and propelled by stirring and powerful percussion of sometimes seven drummers, Ezibu Muntu creates truly thrilling performances of visual and musical power.
Founder Tanya Dennis established Ezibu Muntu on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). Then a professor in the dance department, Dennis recognized Richmond’s need for arts diversity and cultural enrichment. She also hoped to educate the community at large, and to cultivate ancestral pride among African American students by promoting Africa’s rich cultural traditions. She and a dedicated group of students rehearsed in a university gymnasium. After eleven years as a student organization, Ezibu incorporated, and applied for status as a not-for-profit organization. They continued with their mission of educating youth and adults about African customs and traditions. They host visiting groups from Africa, to entertain as well as educate and preserve techniques and traditions. Past guest groups include Guewel Dance Group from Senegal.
Today’s Co-Artistic Directors are Faye Walker and Babadungo Olagunke. Both are accomplished dancers, and Olagunke frequently choreographs group dances for the company.
Founding Member Renee Knight has been with Ezibu Muntu since its inception. She continues to dance with the Foundation, and serves as their General Manager. Ezibu Muntu alumni include several professional artists. They perform annually in Washington D.C., throughout Virginia, as well as in New York City, North Carolina, and more. They’ve appeared in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, “JFK,” as well as in a music video for the Grammy-winning Dave Matthews Band.
Yet for all their travels and high-profile appearances, Ezibu Muntu’s focus is the Richmond community. This summer on Friday nights through August 8th, the group offers Hip Hop Dance Classes, from 6 to 7:00 pm at their studio at 418 E. Main St. Classes cost $10 and are taught by company members. In addition to this week’s performances in Richmond and in Petersburg, the group will perform August 9th from noon to 4 pm at the 4th Annual Block Party on Main St. with organizers of Tropical Soul Café’s renowned open mic, “Tuesday Verses.” Both in educational outreach and in performance, they strive to involve all ages and skill levels, and they emphasize an inter-generational focus on family. The company features about 25 members, many of whom travel regularly to Africa to learn new techniques and material to bring back on their return to Richmond.
Ezibu Muntu’s dancers and drummers will appear at Dogwood Dell in Byrd Park Thursday, July 24. The show is free and begins at sunset.