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(Dennis) Tobaji Stewart (Oakland) collaborating with Inter-City Services, Inc. (Berkeley)

Award: $40,000 Traditional Arts grant awarded in 2017

To be presented: January 2019

(Dennis) Tobaji Stewart will lead an intergenerational group of Black performing artists in creating a staged work that interweaves African and African American ritual and traditions with contemporary hip hop dance and spoken word to create a choreopoem titled Answered Prayers. The work will provide a contemporary expression of the lived history and current condition of the African American community, and it will introduce young artists and a broader audience to traditional values usually known only to cultural insiders. Tobaji Stewart is a renowned practitioner of Lucumi, a worship system that African captives brought to Cuba during the Atlantic Slave Trade. Subsequently, it was brought to the United States by immigrants in the mid-20th Century. Like most African-derived spiritual practices, Lucumi ceremonies involve sacred music, dance, and song, and are led by experts who train in an oral tradition that passes from generation to generation through spiritual “families.” Stewart, a bata musician, is an acknowledged leader in public and private Lucumi ceremonies.

Answered Prayers will be structured around seven traditional songs that young adults from Inner City Services choose. The youth will respond to the traditional works through hip hop dance and spoken word. Choreographer Laila Perez-Jenkins of Emese- Motad and spoken word artist Khafre Jay from Hip-Hop for Change will guide the production along with Tobaji Stewart.

Inner City Services has been serving the greater Alameda County region and beyond since 1984, providing workforce development, job training, and cultural-based education. It collaborates with community partners to provide resources to youth, schools, and reentry populations.

Photo: ACTA Online (Tobaji Stewart, front row center)