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Ojionu of Amesi

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Published on Jun 15, 2014

African Jazz-Dance Improvisations: Motion as Humor

The Ojionu of Amesi is a classic example of jazz in African traditional dance, of a particular variety that is steeped in humor. It is not a dance for the young and agile, as in the other Igbo variety (Igba Mmonwu) also found in the same Aguata and Ideato areas of southeastern Nigeria, but mainly for the middle aged. Though it still demands of that basic level of athleticism imbued by physical fitness.
It is essentially a six-piece outfit, comprising of a wooden -gong player, another with a pair a shakers, two drummers -- one with a medium-sized drum and the other with the long drum -- a flutist and a masked dancer. The dancer responds only to the sounds from the flutist and the long drummer, while the rest provide the rhythm background.
The dancer alternates between footwork that accounts for the entire rhythm and improvised steps in response to the notes produced with by the long drummer or the flutist. But the flutist is the lead player for the masquerade and follows it around. In local lore it is believed that the flutist serves as both player, adviser, guide and guard. While playing for the masquerade, it also uses the opportunity to warn it of present dangers, any menacing presences, any dangerous characters that might wish to cast a spell on it and tells it how to evade them.

The masquerade, while executing the dance borrows from common, everyday gestures and motions. Now it is mimicking soldiers marching and taking salutes, next it could be pretending to be lame, while sometimes producing vigorous physical movements. Sometimes it all seems indifferent, sometimes playful and on other occasions quite serious. It is a dance for mature minds, who can appreciate the variety of life and at the same time celebrate the eclectic nature of art.

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