Yorùbá Masquerade Dancers Sing Oríkì and Dance Bàtá
on July 28, 2023
The first frame is steady: smoke in the distance; a montage of bodies— singers and drummers, acrobats, names forfeited momentarily to their craft. Drumbeats for a cue, almost an epiphany, and you pan for signs in a portion of the square alien to gardening. It is a given: the bàtá rhythm heralding the masquerades now will shed its subtle beginnings. At once gods and men, masked beings, the guttural notes ferry their agon. Pliable legs dangle on, unmoored like a wanderer’s intent, their tentative force mirroring the strength of an alder. For the uninitiated, the masquerades’ dance, it would seem, doubles the masks, such things that must remain as puzzles: the artisanal details of their garbs, their woven pouches, and polished stones. The birds lifting here know. But they alone can reveal what they carry beyond. *The title is borrowed from a video by Debbie Klein __________________________________ Invocation Here, river bird, take the burdens and the joys, carry what you can; help solve the puzzle of distance and fog. ___________________________ Doppelganger They had gathered all evening for one moment, Pentecost again, their fingers stalled on one verse and the promise, till the choristers tuned the milieu to a refrain—seraphic heads bobbed in the pews. A minder yet to shed his pagan name struck me in that frenzy, and my eyes dimmed. I began to see men and women as trees. In search of my mother, I went to the left side of the hall, where she would sit. A woman there looked at me with a knowing, pointed elsewhere. I turned and faded into that smoke.
‘Gbenga Adeoba was born in Akure, Nigeria. He is the author of Exodus (University of Nebraska Press, 2020) and a chapbook Here is Water (APBF/Akashic books, 2019).