Dave Lindo, Gleaner Writer
JOY KARIAMU has been keeping our African heritage alive in Jamaica and the diaspora through her work as a dance teacher.
Kariamu grew up in Manchester but migrated to the United States of America, where while working at IBM, she started a dance class in the late 1980s called Reggaesize.
As she explained, "Reggaesize was exercising by dancing to reggae music. It really took off in New York, especially at the time when reggae/dancehall was getting increasingly popular with artistes such as Shabba Ranks."
On how she got involved in traditional African dancing, she said, "Being aware of my purpose on Earth, dance is one of the medicines, I was given to bring to Earth, so it's an understanding. I knew all along that this was my calling, but when I went to Africa in 1999 in Kemet, Egypt, and in Senegal in 2000 - all was fulfilled and it hasn't stopped since."
Kariamu learnt the ancient dances from the different regions in West Africa, from Senegal, Ghana, and Guinea. She has devoted her life to imparting things she has learnt to promote Africa.
"You know, as a nation, sometimes we are filled with aspects of other people's culture, and as children of Africa, we forget our heritage, our culture," she said. "As Jamaicans, this should be a vital part of our lives. Children need to be taught our African heritage."
Kariamu has performed at many top events in Jamaica and the United States, showcasing African dances. "I performed at the Manchester 50 celebrations in December at Brooks Park. We also created an African Village," Kariamu disclosed.
"Every year, I go up for the Dance Africa event in Brooklyn (New York), which last year celebrated 35 years in existence. It is staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and basically highlights African culture, including the dance aspect."
Outside of performing, Kariamu promotes African culture by her general way of life. "My wardrobe is totally African as I dress like an African," she explained. "I also practise other aspects of the African way of life. It's just an important part of my life."
She said descendants of Africa have a lot to be proud of. "When I went to Egypt, you saw the greatness of the black man, the Pyramids, other creations," she explained. "They want to pass off Egypt as a Middle East country, but it is truly an African nation. When you went to the museum, the wig room, you saw Afros, locks, braids. When you go to the mummy rooms, all of them (mummies) had braids."
Kariamu said there is a strong connection even in at present between Africa and Jamaica, which, often, is not recognised. "Like our dance, Pon di River dance, it's a dance from Africa called sinte. The Gully Creeper is the national dance of Haiti, yanvaloo, which originates in Africa."
She added: "African dancing, African culture should be taught in schools. And there should be funding for sustaining and highlighting certain African heritage cultures, including dance."