CHERYL BYRON TEACHES THROUGH THE ARTS
By Glenda Cadogan
"Brig ge de bap, brig be de bap, brig ge de bap, bap, bap! "
The rhythm of African drums fills the auditorium. Ta dap, ta dap! Ta dap ta dap! The sounds of 40 little dancing feet move in time to the rhythm. With waistlines thin like electrical wire, they create percussion patterns with their hips that electrify the audience. Brig ge de bap, brig be de bap, brig ge de bap, bap, bap!
To those being entertained, this is a brilliant performance of traditional African dance. But to the dancing members of Cheryl Byron & Something Positive Junior Ensemble, this is not just another performance. In addition to having fin, they are preparing for the challenges of adulthood by "learning through the arts." This learning through the arts program was conceptualized and instituted in 1987 by Cheryl Byron a poet dancer, choreographer, storyteller well known with the Caribbean community.
Alana Harper is one of the most "senior" members of the junior Company but is one of the few who performs in both junior and senior Companies. She is just 15 years old but can dance a lead role in a bele just as well as she can play out a mean rhythm on the African drum. This year, Alana gained the distinction of being The Bahania - Queen on the Band for the Company's 1996 Labor Day Children's Carnival presentation, "World Wide Wonders." Of the entire Something Positive experience she says in a word, "Excellence! As a result of being in the company I've been able to learn the importance of being on time," she said, adding "I've also learned about other people's culture and had several opportunities to travel. But most of all I've had fun!"
When Byron started the junior Company nine years ago, it was a means of using what to most children like Alana is fun, to teach them about life while at the same time passing on the tradition of the art form, " It had always been one of my dreams to start a school that teaches the traditional arts," Byron said. "I believe that once your culture is centered and strong - spiritually that is - there is very little that can throw you off course. Because you know who you are, you know where you come from and your self-esteem is in place.
According to Byron, the thing about the arts is that it helps a person to develop on many different levels. "It teaches you how to look, how to observe, how to translate and create," she said.
One of the ways in which Byron accomplishes her aim of "passing on the tradition" is through the production of a children's carnival costumed band. Through workshops and hands-on exercises, Byron has been able to introduce an educational component to the business of mas making. "Our band is more than putting on a costume and playing mas, the children must be involved at every level including making parts of their costumes." Included in this year's carnival band production was a tour of the several mas camps in the Brooklyn area; learning about the history of their presentation and lectures and workshops on mas making and design.
The Company's first masquerade band produced in 1992 was called "Dancing Spirits" and was about thirty members strong. This year, in collaboration with Sandy Belle, they produced "World Wide Wonders" with costumes representative of the diverse cultures of Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas. Not only did they feature a Queen, the band also had several individual character portrayals for the first time.
According to Byron, as the children become more involved in the Company, she can see improvement in "the process of the learning process. It translates into their everyday lives."
The junior Company members range from age's 4-18 years and just in case you are wondering, there is no fee associated with being a Company member. What is also unique about the Company is that the entire Ensemble - Cheryl Byron & Something Positive - is a performing arts company. This means that the children have numerous opportunities, including Labor Day Carnival, to showcase their talents. "Somebody has to do it," Byron said, "there is no sense in having the knowledge and leaving the world with it. Someone has to take responsibility for passing on the tradition because we are not going to be around forever," she said, adding, "We must empower our children to carry on the tradition."
The only thing that has slightly impeded the ultimate progress of the Company is space. Rehearsal space that is. At present, the Junior Company rehearses at John Hus Moravian Church through courtesies extended by Mr. Jerry Stephens. The senior Company and the Senior Citizens Theatre of the Elders rehearse at Medgar Evers College. "Though we are extremely grateful to both institutions for the space they provide, there is a critical need for a permanent home," Byron said. " For the past ten years since the formation of Cheryl Byron & Something Positive, the Company has been wandering from home to home including some places that required a huge payment every month. "There is a whole lot more we can do if we had the facilities," Byron said. "For instance, we have more than 20 children of different ages and ability. We need to divide them into groups in separate studios for the different area we cover like dance, music, storytelling and drumming. Plus, part of the program is assistance with schoolwork. We need separate space for this also."
Despite these constraints, Something Positive continues to sound a positive note wherever they perform. The group had another major achievement this year when the Company, in conjunction with Medgar Evers College where Byron is an adjunct professor, presented the first symposium of its kind - Passing on the Tradition of the Carnival and Masquerade Legacy - a Youth symposium and the ongoing Saturday Carnival Workshops, issues relating to conflict resolution, safe sex, literacy, conversation and environmental concerns were addressed by speakers.
Many of the group's performances open with the affirmation: "In the beginning was the word and the word was the drum." Byron and her aggregation, through the drums and her words, continue to send a positive vibration to the world. Whether it is while floating on African rhythm, dancing inside a carnival band, performing through the streets or telling a story, Cheryl Byron and Something Positive bring a message of hope for the future generation to that we say, sing in a dubtion style - Brig ge de bap, brig ge de bap, brig ge de dap, dap, dap!
For more information cal (718) 951-3645