Americans often visualize Africa as a poverty-stricken land overrun by jungles, lions, tigers and bears. Oh my, what a misconception, says Baoku Moses.
"In reality, Africa is a mighty, diverse land filled with people of great cultures, traditions, history, religions, languages, rituals, literature, myths and music," he says.
The African Image Arts Organization, which he helped found, is spreading the word.
Born in Nigeria, Moses studied the arts for 10 years, acting in theater companies and drumming in African rhythm circles. While learning, he decided to advocate African arts to the world.
"Through my learning process, I thought, 'This would be great to share African arts with the world's people who might never experience it otherwise,' " he says.
Moses moved to Cincinnati in 2002 to teach African drums with the Bi-Okoto Drum and Dance Theatre. His ambition was to establish his own arts organization to cover all aspects of African culture.
"When working with (Bi-Okoto), I noticed students would forget what they learned after leaving," he says. "So I want to create classes that would be different -- not only to give the experience of the African arts, but to have students learn it and grasp it according to their abilities and what they relate to."
Moses shared his vision with his drum student, Kendra Lary. Together they established the African Image Arts Organization to enlighten the world about the realities of life in Africa and to counter the impoverishing images conjured by Hollywood and the media.
The organization uses the arts as an educational tool to preserve, protect and promote African image and heritage.
The arts organization started by delivering lectures and demonstrations at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University and various grade schools. Students receive hands-on instruction, banging on authentic African drums and shaking to the rhythms in traditional African dance while learning about numerous African cultures.
Moses recently orchestrated a production of The Lion King with Amelia Middle School's chorus and band class, using authentic African music, dance and fashions.
"Our mission is to help people better understand African culture," he says. "We hope to bridge the gap between cultures and make the world a more caring, respectful and understanding place in which to live."
Lary and Moses are renovating a three-story building on State Street in Lower Price Hill to stake a base of operations. The organization will offer educational programs through four departments: African Image Drums, the African Image Gallery, the African Image School of Arts and Culture and the African Image Afro Beat Band.
"We're taking it one floor at a time," Moses says. "We're performing all the renovations and paying for them with our money, so it's a long process. The third floor should be open for business in three months time, sometime by September."
The State Street office will host classes and residencies in African drums, dance, language and culinary arts. The format will include study for beginning, intermediate and advanced students.
The African Image Gallery will showcase and sell original art works by various African artists and other artists from around the world.
"The African Image Gallery will mainly showcase African artists' works, but we want to offer art works from more than just African artists so people can experience arts from other cultures," Moses says.
The African Image Afro Beat Band plans to offer free concerts on a patio outside the office. The band celebrated the release of its new CD, Okodoro Oro (The Realistic Reality), with more than 100 people May 29 at the Syrian Shrine (see Spill It, issue of May 26-June 1). Performers entertained the crowd with traditional dance and music while fashioned in African dresses they had sewn themselves. Patrons also enjoyed authentic African foods while vendors sold clothes and art works.
Until the State Street office is up and running, the African Image Arts Organization continues to deliver instructions schools, businesses, groups, festivals -- anyone interested.
"Right now, as we're still setting up, we're open to anything -- weddings, concerts, festivals or end-of-the-year parties," Moses says. "Our drum and dance party fits into any event, and we're open to any service, including workshops for drum and dance, seminars on African culture and our team-building program for companies."
The African Image Drums and Afro Beat Band offer "Rhythms of Life" for groups interested in a unique team-building program. The program is custom designed for ice-breaking, teamwork, diversity appreciation and self-awareness.
"Rhythms of Life is a different team-building program where we let the instruments do the talking," Moses says. "With these instruments, like the smaller drums playing and the middle one supports it and the larger drums, they all create different sounds that contribute to the whole. Like these instruments differ, so are the people in a team who play different parts to contribute to the whole."
The African Image Arts Organization presents "Ilu Ayo" (Drums of Joy) summer drum circle at 5 p.m. every Saturday in Lindner Park in Norwood and will offer performances and seminars Friday with the Kenyan Association of Cincinnati and June 26 with the Congolese Association of Cincinnati.
"A lot of people pay thousands of dollars to go to Africa to see these dances and drum circles," Lary says. "What we want to do is bring the dance and culture of Africa to Cincinnati for the children of Africa and people in this city who can't afford that journey."
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