Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
After their recent debut full self-produced performance at Redbones Blues Café, New Kingston, Tribe Sankofa is looking back at its full presentation and forward to possibilities.
In Word-Soul: The Redbones Edition, the 15-member outfit presented poetry and song, along with dance, drama and music from special guests. Sankofa's founder Fabian Thomas says: "Things are good. Artistically, the show was a success. The response was overwhelming. Ninety-five per cent of it was my vision of what I wanted. That is what I had in my head".
The night started with poetry done with Sankofa's multiple voices. It morphed into song in which Shanique Brown - for whom there were yells of encouragement and appreciation from the audience at points - Althea Hewitt and Brian Johnson were prominent. Among the guests were Mijanne Webster on violin and Michael Sean Harris on violin and vocals, the delightful contradiction of Harris applying his clear, vibrant vocals to the image of a woman wining on her head top, one of the night's standout moments.
Another special guest, Tanya Stephens, did the soul-warming I'm Alive and It's a Pity, commenting on the transient nature of male-female relationships in between songs and declining attempts by the audience to have her do more than a few songs. She reminded the listeners that it was Tribe Sankofa's night, not Tanya Stephens in concert, and left with a few lines of Boom Wuk, which audience members had insistently hollered for - and hollered for when the request was satisfied.
Visual arts were included, with a slide show of Natalie Barnes' images of Haitians in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
With multiple people permutations to handle (including a band), there were moments of rearrangement which slowed the momentum of Word-Soul considerably.
And, after Stephens, Keneau Daley's sign language performance and a closing medley, which included material from Toots and the Maytals and Beres Hammond, were the trailing edge of a very long presentation close to midnight.
Show length and stage manoeuvrings apart, Thomas knows that he has another consideration with such a large tribe: finances. As with any large group of performers, it is going to take a lot of paying patrons to make a profitable production.
Thomas said reports from Redbones' management are that there were audience members who were not regulars at the restaurant and night-spot, the implication being that they came specifically for Sankofa. There was also a mixture of age groups.
"It is about building a Tribe Sankofa following," Thomas said. So, as a "fledgeling group", members are as much part of the promotion as the production. Thomas also pointed out that some Tribe Sankofa members were involved in other groups, and as Word-Soul was the last show for the year, they would have already encouraged persons they know to attend previous productions in 2012.
Looking ahead, there is the possibility of a show in Montego Bay and Thomas reiterates the tribe's flexibility. So in doing a show as requested, "we will ask what are your needs", and these will be filled with the full unit, a trio, violinist, and other combinations as required.