World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


EMESE: Messengers of the African Diaspora

DANCE ORIGIN: Cuba and Brazil
Folkloric (Orisha)
Rick Ananda
First Appearance in SF EDF:

EMESÈ: Messengers of the African Diaspora is a collective of artists founded in 1998 with a mission to promote and present the rich cultural traditions of the African Diaspora. EMESÈ is comprised of artists with extensive backgrounds in the history, teaching, and preservation of African and African derived song, dance, and drum culture as practiced in Cuba, Brazil, Guinea, Congo, Senegal, Liberia, Haiti, and the U.S.


Bianca Coleman
Maya Coleman
Adéìràwò Orígúwà, Sarah Rosenkrantz
Bianca Coleman, Asatu Musunama Hall Allah, Adéìràwò Orígúwà, Tammy Ryan, Tyese M. Wortham
Rick Ananda (batá), Tyrone Collins (chorus), Taji Maalik Hill (batá), Calvin Holmes (akpón-lead singer), Laila Jenkins-Perez (chorus), Pedro Lopez (batá), Sarah Rosenkrantz (chorus), Takeo Wong (chorus)


is a theatrical performance of a spiritual invocation. An all-female ensemble dances for the Yoruba orisha Shango, a powerful male deity not often portrayed by women. The orisha are emissaries of the divine: the dancers celebrate a masculine ashé (divine life force) that lives in all of us. The choreography shows swagger and kingly presence, sharp lines for Shango’s thunderbolt energy, and pronounced pelvic movements for masculine sensuality. Traditional batá drumming accompanies Lukumí songs of Cuba. To honor longstanding cultural and spiritual connections, the choreography also draws from the spiritual belief system of Candomblé from Brazil.

When Yoruba people were enslaved and brought to Cuba, they maintained African ancestral religions within the imposed European religious systems. Yoruba orisha worship evolved and thrived in Cuba and Brazil. The sacred Yoruba Odu scripture describes Shango as one of the early rulers of Oyo, Nigeria, whose fierce spirit conquered death. He returned to his place in the sky where his divine life force is eternal. Shango is master of the dance and owner of the sacred batá drums. He represents action and connection, and his power lives in the resonance of the drum and in the scream of thunder, heard simultaneously in heaven and on Earth.

The costume’s leopard patterns honor Shango’s animal, sixpaneled skirts reflect Shango’s sacred number, lightning bolts are for masculine energy, fedoras for contemporary masculine cool, and a double-headed ax, or oshé, is for swift and balanced justice.

Early Yoruba musicians played a set of five batá hand drums for Shango ceremonies. In Cuba, the batá evolved into a set of three two-headed drums. In his performance, the batá play the toques, or rhythms, unique to Shango—Wemilere, Emi so, and Meta. The singer calls out a prayer, praise, or welcome, to activate the drum and the dancers.

The piece was choreographed in 2009 by Bianca Coleman, guided by Shango; dancers prepare for performances with invocations to the orisha.

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