Africa Umoja dances its way into DeKalb’s heart

DeKalb County got a lesson in togetherness when Africa Umoja, presented by the International Arts Foundation, were in town Oct. 30 through Nov. 5.

“Let the spirit of togetherness dwell in your hearts,” said co-creator of Africa Umoja Todd Twala on opening night.

Twala created the production with Thembi Nyandeni.

Umoja is the Swahili word for unity or togetherness.

The high-energy musical came to the area as a part of a worldwide tour celebrating the 100th birthday of late South African President Nelson Mandela. The production had its opening night on Oct. 30 and production officials emphasized the importance of getting students to see the musical.

A male performer from the Africa Umoja musical dances during opening night Oct. 30.

The two-hour-long production was held at the DeKalb County’s Porter Sanford III Performing Arts and Community Center.
“There are many parallels between South Africa’s struggle to end apartheid and the civil rights struggle here in the United States.

School children can benefit from the history lesson as well as the positive messages of justice, equality and hope,” said Julie Herron Carson, media contact for the Decatur production. “Both Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King are referenced in the play, and each man has a song dedicated to him to reinforce how they advanced the cause of social justice through non-violent means.”

At the end of opening night, some audience members made donations to underwrite the price of student tickets, making it easier for individual students or schools to visit during field trips.

All 32 performers from the musical are from South Africa and performed through song, storytelling, dance and dramatic presentations.

A group of performers wearing colorful costumes dance in the opening act of Africa Umoja Oct. 30.

“We are glad to be back here in Atlanta,” Ernest Kelly, founder of International Arts Foundation. “This production is generated around taking young people out of townships, [developing] raw talent and making them world class performers.”

Also on opening night, Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary proclaimed Oct. 30 to be Africa Umoja Day in the city of Stonecrest.

“Thank you for exposing us and Stonecrest to an art that makes hip hop look like it’s standing still,” Lary said during the proclamation.

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