Sankofa: a reminder to fly

Feb. 20, 2023, 1:42 p.m. | By Isabelle Yang | 1 year, 4 months ago

The vibrant celebration of African American culture is back in person

After holding Sankofa online for the past two years, Sankofa is back on stage! Entirely student-run, the production is a spectacular commemoration of African American culture, with acts ranging from slam poetry to Afro-pop dances and step. 

The word Sankofa itself comes from the Akan Tribe of Ghana, translating into "It is not taboo to go back for what you forgot (or left behind)." A mythical bird that flies forward while facing backward represents the symbol of Sankofa. Directed by senior Isatu Borbor and senior Skye Sibrian, the show embodies its title: a reminder to never forget so that the past becomes a source of strength for the future.

The vocal ensemble's rendition of the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," started the night with a hopeful tone. The scene then cut to students (senior Sephora Depenyou, sophomore Susae Shiferaw Uzman, senior Maggie Hellner, sophomore Darryl Wormley, junior Ach'sah Gubena, junior Mars Moreno, freshman Ryan Moore, junior Jason Pena and senior Mary Oliver) attending a fictitious historically black college and university (HBCU) – a storyline that masterfully weaves all the performances together. The audience journeys through the ups and downs of campus life, from the students' struggle to understand their heritage to Samuel's (sophomore Darryl Wormley) fight for his radio show, "Diary of a Black Student," culminating in his final decision to leave school and join a non-profit.

Lhea Smith croons to "Afro Blue" by Robert Glasper ft. Erykah Badu. Photo courtesy of Gabe Marra-Perrault.

One after another, evocative poems and dance filled center stage. After an energetic and groovy Afro-pop performance to "Môkôdô" by Serge Beynaud, the lights faded to blue and a single spotlight shone on senior Lhea Smith for "Afro Blue" by Robert Glasper ft. Erykah Badu. Syncopated drum beats and jazzy saxophone melodies transported the audience to an entirely different time – one with black and white TVs and vintage radio-style microphones. Accompanied by saxophonists senior Philip Daniel and senior Nuamen Audena, Smith swayed from one side of the stage to the other, all while the audience grooved to her soft crooning.

The tone immediately shifted for sophomore Feven Hulgizes' compelling recitation of "This is Not a Small Voice" by Sonia Sanchez, where the cast knelt on stage, right fists clenched tight in the air. Immediately following was senior Janayah Dobney and junior Ach'sah Gubena's incredible synchronization in their confident delivery of "Let America be America Again'' by Langston Hughes, and the cast stood fists-up, backs straight, filling the length of the stage. 

After a 20-minute intermission, the second act opened with the vocal ensemble's stunning rendition of the Sunday Service Choir's "Rain" – a performance accented by spotless harmonization and sign language. Spectacular songs and poems followed, all woven together by the students' fight for their rights, chanting, "we want peace, not police."

Yeabsira Mekonnen performs "Stand Up" by Cynthia Erivo. Photo courtesy of Gabe Marra-Perrault.

There was no shortage of talent in the production: from freshman Yeabsira Mekonnen's incredible range and powerful tone and junior Qari Headley and senior Skye Sibrian's moving contemporary choreography in "Stand Up" by Cynthia Erivo, to senior Nia Robertson and senior Sephora Depenyou's emphatic interpretation of "Black Poetry" by Samuel and Keturah to sophomore Susae Shiferaw Uzman's speech in front of protestors as Devyn. 

Sankofa presented the range and diversity of African American culture, with one-liners that make the audience chuckle between charismatic interpretations of poems and an underlying message of using "the gift of your voice." Words of poetry slammed and song lyrics soared, compelling the audience to reflect and recognize the past.

An extraordinary experience that encapsulates a remembrance of the past and a hopefulness for the future, Sankofa – at its core – is a celebration of the vibrancy and legacy of African American culture. The energy of the night culminated in one final fashion show, as all cast members strutted across the stage in traditional clothing to deafening cheers and broad smiles for one last song and poem – a final reminder to "stay beautiful… and don't forget to fly!"

Last updated: Feb. 20, 2023, 2:12 p.m.

Tags: Sankofa

Isabelle Yang. Hi! I'm Isabelle (she/her). Outside of SCO, I love to listen to music, hike and solve puzzles. More »

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