(Los Angeles, California – February 3, 2010) Filmed in Northern California and directed by Nigerian Filmmaker Chike Nwoffiah, Sabar; Life is a Dance is a narrative feature exploring the intricacies of life, love, courage and friendship but most importantly dance. Set against the backdrop of the West African dance movement in the United States, Sabar is a dramatic feature film about the triumph of the human spirit in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Sabar examines how we constantly negotiate and choreograph our way through the bigger and sometimes arrhythmic dance called Life.
Sabar; Life is a Dance is a high-powered drama that details the life of Aisha (played by highly acclaimed dancer Bunmi DeRosario) a young African-American hip hop dancer who seeks connection with her history and past. Convinced by a friend to enroll in an introductory Sabar dance class she quickly excels within a genre that is almost impossible for outsiders to grasp. In a sea of phenomenal Bay Area dance talent DeRosario stands out as the top in her field, proving her aptitude as a professionally trained dancer, soaring to new heights in her debut role as an actress and managing to captivate audiences right from the beginning. Set in the culturally diverse area of Oakland, California, the movie unfolds in the traditional style of an African epic. “When I moved to the Bay area over 20 years ago, it was a place where I would get my fix for African dance and music. When I would walk into one of the dance studios, I would see more than 20 to 30 dancers leaping off the floor, going from one end of the room to the next and the drumming was phenomenal,” says Nwoffiah.
Fascinated by the African dance movement of the late 70’s Chike Nwoffiah of Rhesus Media was determined to capture and bring this underground movement to life. Nwoffiah as director plays the role of the Griot or “Nguewel,” a highly respected oral historian in the Wolof culture as he examines this unfolding and rapidly spreading culture, carrying on the legacy and torch of West African dance in America through the powerful medium of Hollywood. “As I began the process of doing research, talking to different people and interviewing the elders of the community, the more I got involved, the more in-depth I got into it. After consulting with a friend of mine, I began to look at this project not as a documentary piece but as a dramatic feature because there were so many different layers I was peeling off. My heart was bleeding Sabar.”
At it’s core African dance has an exceptionally diverse cultural heritage that has long been associated with self-exploration, social relations and spiritual communion. West Africa has changed the paradigm of both the classical and urban artistic movements around the world; traveling across ocean divides throughout the Diaspora, inspiring the Savoy Lindy Hop of the Harlem Renaissance, the Ballerinas of 17th century Europe, all the way to the current Krumpin’ masterminds of South Central Los Angeles. It was the dancers of West Africa that would inspire legendary American icons Alvin Ailey, Katherine Dunham, Judith Jameson, Josephine Baker and Debbie Allen, eventually becoming the archetype of modern black dance.
In African culture dance is inextricably connected to rhythms. It was initially the Djembe drum, casted by blacksmiths of the Mande culture that became most commonly associated with West African dance in America, consisting of the most recognizable steps, costume ornamentation and popular rhythms. But there was another obscure drum which remained relatively unknown in the West that has been just as important in the Senegambia region and would go on to be just as powerful and symbolic as the Djembe, known by it’s native people simply as the Sabar. Sabar is also the term collectively used to describe the genre of dancing, whose complexity and intricacy originated in the urban streets of Dakar and has evolved to become the national pulse of Senegal. It was said throughout global media “When Youssou N’Dour brought the exuberant and sensual rhythms of the Sabar into the clubs, he took the lid off the scene.”
Sabar is an ancient yet re-emerging art form, ushered back onto the scene during Post-Colonial French Independence with a wave of neo-afrocentricism. Sabar has recently found it’s popularity increasing in the trendy dance studios of America as students have been privileged to learn from former members of the national dance company, Le Ballet du Senegal, when members settled here in the early 80’s. Globally renown artist Youssou N’Dour who has collaborated with Neneh Cherry, Peter Gabriel and Sting appeared in the widely circulated MTV/BET music video for “How Come” with Fugees member Wyclef Jean, featuring picturesque Sabar dancing on the streets of Brooklyn. Current multi-platinum superstar Akon has spearheaded his unique blend of native culture and American R&B, incorporating West African dance and drumming into his politically charged video “Pot of Gold.”
The actors in this film bring the characters to life by their noteworthy ability to examine and analyze the dramatic text and generate the emotive expressiveness needed to demonstrate the interconnectedness of the culture. The electrifying film is full of non-stop dancing, competition, suspense and the fight for the illustrious “Queen of Sabar” title. Other cast members include prominent dance instructors in the West African Bay Area community such as Naomi Diouf and Alassane Kane as well as special appearances by renowned New York based Sabar dancer Babacar M’Baye and Sabar master drummer Cheikh M’Baye. The characters in Sabar; Life is a Dance are versatile and multi-talented, glamorizing a cultural art form without losing respect for it’s originators. It is perhaps in it’s quintessential form a musical that comes to life with the intent to inspire and educate. By the time the credits roll one can almost envision the colorfully decorated Sabar dancers of yesteryears as their feet move effortlessly in the sand on the picturesque beaches of Senegal… to the call of their drum.
Sabar; Life is a Dance premiered during 2009 as the “Official Selection” at The Pan-African Film & Television Festival (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso, The Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), The Toronto African Film & Music Festival, The Oakland International Film Festival (OIFF) and the New York African Diaspora Film Festival (NYADFF). Sabar received two Wins for “Best Feature Film” and “Audience Choice Award” at the 2009 Urban Mediamakers Film Festival (UMFF) in Georgia.