Inspired by the voices of our ancestors, Kulu Mele African Dance & Drum Ensemble preserves and presents traditional dance and music of Africa and the African diaspora and celebrates contemporary African American culture.
Kulu Mele carries the torch for culture. Established in Philadelphia in 1969 by Baba Robert Crowder, Kulu Mele is the fruit of many peoples’ dreams, the nation’s longest-enduring African dance company. For 50+ years, Kulu Mele has embodied excellences in West Africa, Cuban and African Diasporan traditions, including contemporary American hip hop.
Kulu Mele performs works from their repertoire year-round, bringing culturally meaningful African dance, drum and culture to communities, schools, programs and festivals throughout Philadelphia and beyond. The company tours nationally and internationally. Locally, Kulu Mele’s Thanksgiving weekend annual show premieres new work by guest artists and Artistic Director Dorothy Wilkie, who has led the company for 35+ years. Staples from the repertoire are also reinterpreted; the company continues to grow and evolve.
“You never stop learning,” is Kulu Mele mantra. Omo Kulu Mele classes for young people introduce basic drum rhythms and dance movements, students (3-18) learning together over a year, culminating in a spring recital. Older children sometimes have the opportunity to perform with the company. Educational residencies, workshops and programs serve thousands annually (including generations of Philadelphia school children). Curriculum materials and resources support and advance learning. Adult classes introduce people of all experience levels to West African and Afro-Cuban movement and rhythm and to African American hip hop. Kulu Mele company members often develop work through intensive study residencies with dancers and musicians steeped in particular cultural traditions.
Baba Robert Crowder (1930-2012) was a renowned percussionist, working with luminaries John Coltrane, McCoy Tyner, John Hines, Maya Deren, Katherine Dunham, Julito Collazo, Francisco Aquabella and others. In the early 1950s he began his formative association with Ghanaian artist and musician Saka Acquaye, diving deep into culture as a path to freedom and awareness and (along with Arthur Hall and Ione Nash in Philadelphia) carrying Acquaye’s legacy forward, making Philadelphia “a center of African America.” Crowder’s artistic honors included a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and awards from the Pennsylvania Council on the which allowed him to make trips to Ghana, Cuba and Guinea with Kulu Mele and on his own, to continue to pursue learning.
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