World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Obakòso Drum & Dance Ensemble

Dance Origin: Cuba
Administrative Coordinator:
Colleen Barroso
José Francisco Barroso 
First Appearance in SF EDF: 1997

In Yoruba, Obakòso means “king” (oba) “does not hang” (kòso). It refers to Shango, the fifth king of Oyo, Nigeria; who was hanged but did not suffer. The Yoruba people, from what is now southwestern Nigeria, were the second major ethnic group brought to Cuba from Africa, arriving mostly in the 1820-1860s. Despite adversity, they maintained ancestral religions now referred to as Regla de Ocha in Cuba and Lukumí in the United States. The spine of this cultural tradition is the sacred Odu scripture, or Ifa—a vast body of oral teachings and history containing the 256 scriptures and detailing the essence of the orishas (deities). Artistic Director José Francisco Barroso works from the root of this tradition by creating choreography directly inspired by the patakín (stories) of the sacred text. 

The three hourglass-shaped, double-headed batá drums “talk” to each other in a conversation that is understood in arun (the spiritual realm). The batá drums are fundamento (consecrated) for ceremonial use or aberikula (profane) for performance. The songs are in the original Yoruba language as they were preserved in Cuba, presented in traditional African call and response.

Obakòso Drum & Dance Ensemble was founded in 1996 by José Francisco Barroso in devoted effort to educate and preserve the profound knowledge and resilient beauty living within traditional African Cuban music and dance. Director Barroso began his professional career at the age of 18 with Havana's renowned Raíces Profundas. The members of Obakòso come with a variety of ethnic, cultural, and dance backgrounds, each one a dedicated student of Barroso. 


TITLE: Shango, King of Oyo
Soloist: José Francisco Barroso
Colleen Barroso, Heather Easley-Kasinsky, Emiola Gaia Randolph, Matt Lucas, Sandy Perez, Sherri Taylor, Rosita Villamil, Chris Walker 

Shango, the fifth king of Oyo, Nigeria was hanged, but did not suffer. The fierce essence of Shango's spirit conquered death and he returned to his place in the sky—so, despite even mortality, his ashe (divine life force) is eternal. In both African and Cuban orisha traditions, Shango is known as the orisha (deity) of thunder and lightning; he is unmatched in his mastery of the dance and is owner of the sacred batá drums. His power is evident in the resonance of the drum and in the scream of thunder, heard simultaneously in heaven and earth. Shango—and Obakòso—represent connection and interdependency: between heaven and earth, drum and the dance, dance and the spirit, community and tradition.

Fabrics, colors, patterns, combinations of cloth, appliqués, and trimming materials are specifically coded to the orisha Shango. Adornments such as cowry shells are organized according to the signature number of the orisha according to Odu. 

The complex rhythmic patterns of the batá drums imitate the sounds of the spiritual energies of arun and oriki (praise language) to the orisha Shango. The following lyrics sing the praise of Shango in battle:

Shango, were were ina jo
Ina jo oku'jeje.

Shango, the fire grows and grows
The fire busts through the roof tops.


TITLE OF PIECE: Olurounbi- Oshun, The Akara Seller
: José Francisco Barroso
DANCERS: José Francisco Barroso, Colleen Brennan, Tyrone Collins, Tasha De Marco, Paulina De Castro Flint, Heather Easley-Kasinsky, Saba Gebreab, Heike Goering, Akua Jackson, Ariel Lucky, Samad Raheem, Ramon Ramos Alayo, Lance Scott, Takeo Wong, Tyese Wortham
MUSICIANS: Bata: Chris Fisher, Tito Garcia, Alan Potosnak, Silvestre Martinez, Coro: WendyEllen Cochran, Christiane Hayashi, Portsha Jefferson, Michelle Martin, Sherri Taylor, Ahsabi Monique (Akpon)

The Obakoso Drum & Dance Ensemble presents a dynamic parable from the Ifa tradition, utilizing the movement vocabulary of Afro-Cuban folkloric dance, and referencing the content and elements of the style of the African source. This is a tale of Oshun, the orisha of rivers, sensuality, fertility and love, and her plight with the sacred tree, Iroko. Villagers in the market place pay homage to the Iroko and petition prayers for prosperity and fertility. Dressed in yellow, the barren Oshun begs Iroko for a child and in exchange promises abundant offerings. After being granted her wishes, she becomes overwhelmed and forgets her promise. Iroko thus casts illness on her child and chaos strikes in the village as Iroko’s spokesman, a parrot, begins to spread predictions of illness, loss and struggle. The powerful warrior orisha, Ogun, is sent to cut down the tree in order to put an end to the turmoil. Realizing the magnitude of the circumstances, Oshun seeks out a special spiritual offering to satisfy Iroko. Oshun reclaims the situation by reminding the villagers of Iroko’s abundant power of blessings and goodness and she calls out for everyone to celebrate the sacred tree’s spirit once more.

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