African traditions of storytelling are many and varied, which comes as no surprise given the size, scale and cultural diversity of the continent whence they emerge. It's a brave ethnographer who goes in search of unifying themes: the weight of myth, fable and history - all of which go to inform modern representations of this singular art form - is overwhelming. And it is heartening to know that exponents of such forms are able to ply a compelling, and to some extent, frighteningly relevant, trade to a similar diversity of audiences here in the UK.
Where there is unanimity it is in purpose. Until the twentieth century, the history of much of Africa was agrarian, embodied in subsistence; the impulse to endure and survive in small, often isolated, settlements necessitated collective ways of thinking, planning and living. It is not difficult to see stories and storytelling developing and thriving against such a background: tales of 'the old times', regaled in images heavy with symbolism and local lore by elders, encouragers of essential traditions and guarantors of social continuity.
And performers like Nigerian-born Sola Story help to keep these traditions alive. Through representations of the physical aspects of ritualised storytelling - dance and frenetic movement - Sola encourages us to engage with our own inherent dynamism. Bringing his unique brand of 'narrative mindfulness' to Settle Stories on the 13th October, Sola will harness stories of Askari, or African warriors, and KaZimba Ngoma, meaning 'spirit of the lion in motion', in the service of effecting meaningful change in audience members' self-perception.
How, we wondered, is it possible to make fabular representations of the African experience relevant to the lives of modern audiences ? Sola gave us some clues in a recent interview:
Mythology is an expression of the collective human unconscious; a liminal map of what is possible, what is destructive and what is impossible, yet still achievable through improbable and often fantastic means. It is a numinous under/overlay of human experience, and just as Theseus's journey through the labyrinth and confrontation with the minotaur can metaphorise the heroic seeking of 21st century environmental advocates to dismantle the monstrous spectre of corporate ecological destruction, so too may African fabular representations be relevant to all people at all times. Besides, African mythology as an antecedent forms the root soil for interpretations of many of the world's heroic stories which, as Joseph Campbell said, are ultimately 'one story'.
Q. How do you go about selecting particular myths and fables from African storytelling traditions ? Do you use narratives that appear to have an especial serviceability for the cultural contexts of your audiences ?
The stories I select are definitely informed by the narratives I wish to engage specific audiences and participants with. I will use whole or parts of an ancient myth and even write some myself such as my ebook 'Nyinka's Daughter', published on Amazon.
Q. How important are dance and movement to the way you develop your approach, and engage with audience participants ?
I am a teacher of a warrior dance tradition called KaZimba Ngoma which informs 'Physical Storytelling' which is a unique approach to embodiment in storytelling. It is completely integrated in, and essential to, my performance and I have definitely been known to engage with audience participants through these movements!
Q. Are stories and storytelling still significant amongst African cultures ?
I do not know of any African descendant culture either on the continent or in the diaspora where storytelling is not an integral part of that culture. The storyteller is still very much a live and vibrant, essential component of African society!
African Warrior Stories - Friday 13th October, 7pm at The Joinery, Settle INFO & TICKETS, CLICK HERE