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Asadata Dafora

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Photograph by Eileen Darby


Asadata Dafora (1890-1965) came to the United States from Sierra Leone and in 1929 formed Shogola Oloba (Dancers and Singers) to present dance dramas based on West African myth and lore. He was the first artist who attempted to present authentic African forms—virtually unknown at the time—outside a tribal setting. His 1934 production of Kykunkor (The Witch Woman) enjoyed sixty-five sold-out performances in New York. Dafora also created the dance dramas Zunga and Zungure and was co-author, with Orson Welles, of the radio play Trangama-Fanga. Under WPA auspices, his company became the Federal Theater African Dance Troupe. With Welles and John Houseman, he collaborated on the Federal Theater production of Macbeth set in Haiti and choreographed the Vodun Witches. Dafora excelled as a singer, composer, dancer, choreographer, and writer, instilling black musicians and dancers with pride and appreciation for the African heritage. As a result of Dafora's work, artists such as Pearl Primus were inspired to incorporate African elements in choreography and performance.

Pictured right: Asadata Dafora in African dress. Dafora was a pioneer in bringing authentic West African culture to audiences in the United States. (Photograph by Eileen Darby; courtesy of Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival Archives, Becket, Massachusetts.)




 Essay by John O. Perpener III -- Selected resources

Related Treasures: African-Americans in Dance -- Dance from Around the World



Asadata Dafora dancing at Jacob's Pillow, 1942. John O. Perpener writes of Dafora's seminal performances, "critics and audiences responded enthusiastically to the vital energy of the dancing and drumming."