Experience African culture at Music in the Park

Maobong Oku of West African drum and dance ensemble Kokoma will be bringing her traditional sound to Kamloops July 15 during Music in the Park. Photo contributed by Kokoma.

Kamloops is getting a taste, or rather a listen or experience, of West Africa July 15 as Kokoma takes the stage.

Kokoma is a collective from Vancouver, B.C. celebrating the rhythm and dance of Africa. Their sound is tribal, moving and very fun—they’ll have you grooving to the rhythm and dancing to the beat. If your toes aren’t at least tapping then you must be standing out of earshot.

Maobong Oku, founder and creative director of Kokoma, says the group has been around for 14 years and while members have come and gone the core message of peace, joy and harmony remain the same.

“We play healing music and we believe that music brings people happiness and joy,” she says. “Music is supposed to heal from the inside and the music and drums from Africa are that feeling.”

Oku describes Kokoma’s music as breathing life into the ancient rhythms of West Africa, the music of her grandparents. The deep roots of the beats also lay the groundwork for a very entertaining performance. While the percussion line hammers on traditional conga and djembe drums, the rest of the group is performing the music with their bodies.

“We play drums, we dance and we do traditional acrobatics from Africa,” Oku explains of her group’s lively shows.

Kokoma has played all over Canada and in the United States. At many festivals they also hold drum and dance workshops where Oku says participants not only learn dance technique, they also learn to synchronize with the music inside.

One of the most beautiful things about African dance is the full use of the body. The dances are tribal and appear very strong, yet joyful. The drum beats are like heartbeats, each movement of the body ticking to a tap from percussion.

Oku, who also choreographs and designs all the costumes for Kokoma’s performances lovingly refers to her group as a big family. About 20 people are currently members, performing in groups of five to seven depending on the type of show. Many of the members are of African descent though a few artists from Cuba have also joined the roster. The collaborative came together with a desire to enjoy African music and to share it with others.

Kokoma has also produced an album called Uya-mi (My Destiny) which came out two years ago. Oku hopes to add a second album soon to follow this accomplishment but where she’ll find the time, who knows.

So if you’re looking to check something other than blues, rock or pop music out on July 15, head down to Riverside Park in Kamloops and enjoy a performance that will bring a smile to your face and shake to your hips.

For more information on Kokoma, visit www.maobongoku.com.

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