If you have a desire for learning how to edit articles and translate them into different languages, then the Wikipedia Translat-a-thon is a wonderful place to start. In its inaugural year at LaGuardia Community College, the Wikipedia Translat-a-thon took place on April 26th and 27th, giving students the opportunity to understand the importance of editing […]
A generous applause follows the introduction of the next performance. A man in jeans, an unbuttoned shirt, and a woolen hat bounces up the stairs to the stage of the Little Theatre, skipping every second step. As he reaches the stage, he puts his palms together, glances skywards, and then gently pats the left of his chest with his right fist. This is Yuba. This is his stage now.
Without a single word, and hardly an acknowledgement to the crowd, Yuba sits on the stool in front of a microphone. He picks up his guitar and begins the journey upon which each audience member is invited; a journey back to Southern Morocco where he was born and raised.
The slight rasp in his voice cuts through the chords and lands sensuously on the ears of the silent audience. The rhythmic strumming of his guitar, interrupted only by his precise plucking of the strings, is reminiscent of someone like Paul Simon or Ben Harper. He ends his first song, but for a beat or two there is no applause. There is an awkward silence where the audience is left reeling, perhaps wondering what just happened? They gather themselves in time to erupt in a wild applause accompanied by whooping, whistling, smiles and laughter.
“Thank you, thanks so much!” Yuba says with a large smile. He laughs and looks down at his feet. His brown sneakers are awkwardly perched on the rungs of the stool. A young man in a button-up and jeans joins him on stage. He sits on the stool next to Yuba, holding a percussion instrument – what looks to be a combination of bongos and a djembe. He and Yuba share a smile. Yuba begins to speak, but after a few stutters, stammers and hesitations he politely apologizes for his English, to which the audience responds with an encouraging applause. With help from his percussionist, he introduces himself.
Yuba is Amazigh, or Imazighen when referring to more than one person; a 1000-year-old culture that stretches across North Africa from Morocco in the North-West to Egypt in the North-East. Imazighen – meaning “the free people” – fear, as Yuba puts it, the extinction, or “strangulation” of their culture and language as a result of past oppression by Moroccan authorities, intercontinental diasporic movements, and the ever-present “western” influence on developing parts of Africa.
“I use a guitar and my voice to share my dream,” Yuba says holding his guitar up slightly. “My dream is for democracy. For Peace. For… uh… for um – liberté?” Before he can find the English word, the crowd booms with a thunderous applause.
Yuba was invited by the New York Forum of Amazigh Film (NYFAF) to perform at the fourth annual NYFAF festival held on April 26th and 27th, 2018, at LaGuardia’s Little Theatre in the M-Building. The event, which included various screenings of numerous Amazigh films over the course of two days, was sponsored by The College Association, Academic Affairs, and the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center (LPAC).
This music, it is not just for me. It is not just mine. It belongs to North Africa. And it’s not just about rhythm, it’s a preservation of culture.
According to the NYFAF official program booklet, this event is intended to provide a platform for filmmakers, artists, and scholars of indigenous Amazigh identity to meet annually to “promote an understanding of the unique history, culture, and language of Amazigh peoples.” Yuba, the only musician of the festival, performed on Thursday April 26th for what was supposed to be a 45-minute performance.
Yuba’s second song, as he explains, is about the environment. His accompaniment adds that we all need to remember: “We don’t own nature, nature owns us.” With this statement, and the initial cords of the song, hands of Moroccans in the audience begin to rise. Each hand holds three fingers up, as if prompted by Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games.
I turn to the man seated next to me. His fingers are raised up high. As if triggered by my puzzled expression, he leans towards me and politely explains that each finger represents the three aspects that tie Imazighen together: “Land. Man. Identity,” he says and introduces himself as Mbarek Belrhourbr, a Moroccan Amazigh and friend of Yuba. Throughout the performance, at least four hands with three raised fingers can be spotted in the audience, excluding Mr. Mbarek’s and mine, of course.
The raised hands, however, are not the only audience contribution of the afternoon. Yuba makes use of a simple call-and-response technique throughout all of his songs, which allows the audience, despite only a small percent being Tamazight speakers, to join in, and sing along with him. Some members of the audience take to beating their chairs in rhythm (for the most part) with the music, and others opt for using their voices to share their delight.
A lovely incident occurs when one audience member, the wielder of a particularly, uh, unique singing voice, confidently accompanies Yuba during his fifth number, a popular song in Morocco from the 1940’s. His distance from the correct key, and the volume at which he was singing, makes it rather obvious when he mistimes the beginning of the chorus, belting out his words into a silent theatre. Yuba initiates the laughter that then follows. He looks in the direction of the enthusiastic audience member, smiles and encourages him to continue. There is a family of five in the front row, but the whole theatre has become a family. There seems to be no judgment under this roof, only laughter and support.
With a glance at his watch and raised eyebrows directed at one of the organizers, Yuba gifts the audience with an extra 15 minutes. He strums his guitar for the last time that afternoon.
“This music, it is not just for me. It is not just mine. It belongs to North Africa,” Yuba says earnestly. “And it’s not just about rhythm, it’s a preservation of culture.” With that he ends his performance with “Imik Simik” meaning “step-by-step,” a song about many little actions that have the potential to bring about profound effects on the world. Perhaps this performance is one of those very actions.