This video shows an art form today known as the Ladja or Danmye (previously entitled the Ag’Ya) of Martinique. Two combatants engage each other in a game of trickery, skill and acrobatic agility. At the head of the circle musicians control the tempo of the contest singing, playing drums and other instrument of African origin. Could this far-away Caribbean lookalike be a long-lost capoeira cousin? Does this offer us clues as to Capoeira’s African origins? The similarity is nothing but striking!
The video footage in this clip has been compiled from the Katherine Dunham Collection at the Library of Congress. Katherine Dunham, who passed away in May 2006, was a dancer, choreographer and researcher – a founding mother of African dance in American popular culture. She came across the Ag’Ya during a fieldwork expedition to the Caribbean and it inspired her to create an Ag’Ya dance performance back in the USA to popular acclaim. Click here to see an interview with Katherine Dunham speaking about the Ag’Ya.
As in all cultural manifestations of African descent music, song, dance and spirituality form a unified whole. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of video recording in 1936. Therefore I super-imposed, albeit artificially, authentic Ladja (Danyme) music taken from Alan Lomax’s 1962 Caribbean Voyages onto Dunham’s footage. Alan Lomax was a pre-eminent and much loved American ethnomusicologist who traveled the world from the mills of the Scottish Isles to the Far East in his quest to record the sounds of life.
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