Video by Ashley Murray
The Shona Sharif African Dance and Drum Ensemble
opened its 25th season of the Langston Hughes’ gospel show Black Nativity
this past weekend. The ensemble has been giving the gospel musical an African-roots treatment since it began.
The late Shona Sharif attended Howard University during a cultural revolution in the 1960s, says her son Oronde Sharif. He now directs the ensemble and has staged the production of Black Nativity
since his mother’s passing in the late 1990s.
“She earned her bachelor’s in fine arts and fell in love with dance. Along the way, she started to incorporate dance in her art, and really started to do traditional African dance in Pittsburgh. We started bringing in master [African] drummers and teachers in the late 80s.”
The ensemble is affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Africana Studies and has the mission to teach about African culture and the diaspora.
Sharif, who teaches part-time in Africana Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, has been playing the part of Joseph since 1993. He says the marriage of African dance and drumming with the famed poet Hughes’ Christmas story is meant to “connect Africa and a lot of Biblical groundings in Africa and expose those to the population.”
“I think that definitely adds another element,” says Lindsay Renea, also a Howard University graduate, who plays the part of Mary. She runs her own dance studio in Youngstown, Ohio, and teaches in the dance department at Youngstown State University. “There’s lots of polyrhythm and polycentric movement, which is characteristic of African dance. I think that layered on top of the wonderful script that Langston Hughes has composed and written is an amazing addition.”
The show runs through Dec. 21 at the University of Pittsburgh's Alumni Hall (seventh floor), 4227 Fifth Ave., in Oakland. Tickets range from $10-$20. Contact 412-407-7571 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.