Shared Rhythms from Benin and Suriname

February 2009 -

"The connection between our music is extremely strong; Mundial knew what it was doing. It is therefore invigorating to be touring together. Percus Nomades feels exactly the same. Two weeks ago we had never even met! It is easy for us to share our excitement with the audience. By the end of the performance, the entire audience joins in."

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Okobua and Percus Nomades. Photo: Velu

Humbert Oosterwolde is Okobua's musical director. In an initiative by Mundial Productions, his group was linked with Percus Nomades from Benin for a tour of theatres in the Netherlands. Oosterwolde is highly inspired by the collaboration. The history of slavery that ties Suriname to West Africa left many scars, but here it generates only positive feelings.

Okobua consists of five experienced drummers specialised in the typically-Suriname apinti drum. Oosterwolde: "This drum is used in particular for rituals, like feasts in honour of ancestors, and also for birthdays. For some reason, the apinti faded from West African culture and is now only played in Suriname. It is an important non-verbal ritual communication tool within the Afro-Suriname society. We want to showcase and spread our culture by playing the apinti." The tradition also appeals to younger people. "Thank goodness for that; each year many students come from Rotterdam to follow courses in Suriname with NAKS: an organisation for social work and cultural development."

The men in Percus Nomades play small percussion instruments, in particular using their upper torsos. The simplicity of the hands, mouth, chest and belly is used to create fantastic rhythms and invigorating music. Oosterwolde: "What they do is fantastic, but particularly striking for us was the fact that we understand their language so well. Our shared ancestry is clearly evident. To us it feels like coming home. Their ability to make contemporary music with our rhythms is wonderful."

February 2009 Okobua and Percus Nomades can be seen in Druten, Emmen and Menen (B).