Giwayen Mata is celebrating 25 years of performing and teaching with a concert this Saturday night, July 14, at the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center at Morehouse College.

The troupe was formed in 1993 as groups of women in Atlanta discovered common interests in African drumming, dance and culture. The group’s name comes from Nigeria and means “Elephant Women,” referring to the matriarchal social groups that elephants move in.

Atlanta INtown spoke with co-founder Omelika Kuumba about the history of the group and the upcoming anniversary performance and celebration.

Can you tell me a little about the founding and history of Giwayen Mata?
Osunlade Fatunmise and Ramatu Sabbatt had called together women, some of whom were in already existing dance companies, to learn a variety of African rhythms to play for one another’s dance classes when male drummers were not available. Word began to spread that women were drumming in parks around town. Ameera Wazir of the Women of the Atlanta Mas Jid had heard that there were women in the metro area who were drumming at various parks. She reached out to Kayah Maat, who reached out to Gail Jordan who reached out to me to contact some of the sisters with whom I had been playing to see if they would be interested in preparing a performance for their annual Mother’s Day Fashion Show. As a result Giwayen Mata was founded on March 28, 1993 by ten courageous women: Ama Tyus, Omelika Kuumba, Gail Jordan, Sarahn Henderson, Shalewa Mackall, Sauda Jackson, Osunlade Fatunmise, Andrea Richards Scott, Ramatu Sabbatt, and Ife Hendricks.

Why is it so powerful for women to play instruments traditionally played by men?
It is powerful for women to play instruments more commonly seen played by men because it challenges norms. The drums are powerful in and of themselves. I think seeing and hearing women play them creates an unexpected level of excitement. It also gives people opportunities to think about doing activities that they might not have considered being able to do, but wanted to do.

Giwayen Mata brings both music and dancing to performances. Can you talk about African dancing?
African dancing is the parent of all dance forms. Ballet, Modern, Jazz, Hip Hop, Tap, etc. all have roots in African movement. Whether it is the bent knee, the elongated torso or bent forward torso, the element of multi-polyrythmic movement, one can see a relationship between African dance and other genres. African dancing is holistic. One can learn about history, culture, athleticism, and more as a student of African dance. African dance communicates joy, sorrow, pain, strength, etc. African dance can signal harvest time, births, deaths, celebration time, and more. African dance is uplifting and empowering to people who might not otherwise know the beauty and richness of African cultures. African dance brings families and communities together and may be a way of creating cross-cultural bridges with respect and appreciation.

What role has Giwayen Mata played in bringing African culture to the Atlanta community?
We teach students of all ages and backgrounds. We perform at all kinds of events including weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals, as well as at schools, community and corporate events. We also provide services for other non-profit organizations like Hosea Williams Feed the Hungry and Homeless and the Auburn Avenue Research Library.

Tell us about the July 14 performance? What can the audience anticipate?
To recognize this milestone year, Giwayen Mata is returning home to the AUC. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., we will honor FOGIMA (Friends of Giwayen Mata) and Philanthropists: Cynthia Jackson, and Glenn Forbes; Women of Empowerment: Lindiwe Famodou and Anana Harris Parris; Legacy Builders: Trina Parks and Terrie Ajile Axam; our SOGIMA (Supporters of Giwayen Mata): Jahbri Black and Freddie Kelly; and an Ambassador of Our Culture: Marie Basse, during our Elephant Leaders’ Awards Reception, hosted by the phenomenal, award winning vocalist, Dr. Kathleen Bertrand. There we will feature presentations by SOGIMA drummers, ViZion Dance, Dare, Dream, Dance and a reunion performance by Barefoot Ballet Children’s Dance Ensemble. At 8 pm we will present and a concert, Tafiya: The Journey, giving you a glimpse of our sojourn as women and artists. We anticipate these events that day at the beautiful Ray Charles Performing Arts Center will move us all in a multitude of ways. We will be CELEBRATING with dancing, drumming, playing, singing, signing, and speaking the GIWA Way!

For tickets, visit this link. ?

Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta poet, musician and psychotherapist.  His latest project is a double CD of poetry and music called Don’t Go Back To Sleep