ABOUT STEP AFRIKA! UK

2010 is a Celebration of 15 years of fulfilling and rewarding, but hard work, by Step Afrika! UK, which Khadijatou Doyneh founded in South Africa, and in London after being invited to South Africa in 1995.

Step Afrika is a respected creative cultural performing arts organisation, where young performers have really benefited directly from the best training in Dance, Drum, Drama, Spoken-Word Poetry and Music.  It has always attracted and worked with highly respected skilled and creative professionals, hailing directly from the African continent, the Caribbean, USA, South America and London.
Step Afrika! UK
(SA! UK)
operates on-demand as a collective of independent freelance artist-teachers.

Annually we have led Performing Arts Training, technical skills leading through process to stage performance at the highest standard achievable.  To give young people the deserved feeling of achievement,  the performances have been at first class Venues, such as Sadlers Wells Lillian Baylis, the Royal Festival Hall and also within well equipped Theatres in Schools.  SA! UK is run along charitable terms to benefit young people, the development and advancement of their knowledge of African culture, history, artistic skills.  SA! UK is part of the legacy that was inspired by Khadijatou’s interaction with artists across West Africa initially and later with South Africans since January 1995.  She specifically designed creative programmes to be intensive, deep and relevant.  SA! UK focuses on traditional, modern and hybrid urban cultural components. Projects of usually 6-8 weeks at a time; taking young performers through a holistic practical creative process where their own creative input is nurtured and integrated into the developing work; culminating in a showing or live performance.  SA! UK operates on-demand and operates in a unique manner in a niche market.  SA! UK enjoys popularity amongst young people themselves from all culturally diverse backgrounds, in schools and colleges, with audiences, teachers and resonates well in the UK with school governors, sponsors and funders. 

Current status: 
In December 2010 SA! UK turns 15!  We shall celebrate in 2011. 
Having fulfilled all of it’s original set of aims and objectives and plans over the first 10years, SA!UK is currently re-evaluating, reforming and working towards accredited studies before re-launching.   

History:
Founder - Khadijatou Doyneh. Having graduated from Middlesex University with a BA (Hons) in Dance and Spanish in 1993, Khadijatou followed her dream to learn about African Dance, history and culture first hand by travel to Egypt in December 1993, followed by Dance training in The Gambia and Senegal mid-1994. Those trips also inspired her to begin writing poetry… at the same time fulfilling another goal, to form a Dance Company, create and perform original work mixing African Dance with Contemporary ideas and Street Dance. By late 1994 Khadijatou was performing as a solo dancer, teacher running workshops as well as creating new work with her company of dancers.  Then she was invited to go and work with South Africans, newly liberated from apartheid, in South Africa which proved life changing and set out her life’s work for the next 15years!

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Ngoma Project:
Khadijatou first travelled to and lived in South Africa from January 1995 for 5months during a spectacular music-based project and tour with the Ngoma Project with c17 UK artists, led by Eugene Skeef (a British Council and Standard Bank backed tour), creating workshops, dance choreography, drumming ensemble, concerts, the first ever Caribbean-style Street Carnival in Durban (for which she taught and directed choreography and ran dance workshops in schools in the townships and arts centres). The tour was successful and ended in April ’95, however, Khadijatou stayed on in South Africa.

South Africa – early days…
After making many new friends, networking extensively at Dance Umbrella 1995, Khadijatou met Soweto Dance Theatre’s (SDT) Jackie Mbuyiselwa Semela and then Thembinkosi Hlatswayo, Lindani Nkosi and others and began a fruitful inspired an ongoing friendship and cultural exchange with SDT and its young people who were enormously gifted and talented but underprivileged economically and under-resourced at the time within Soweto communities.  She travelled to Cape Town with Jackie Semela to train the Manyanani Dance Theatre, who were travelling to London to perform at Sadler’s Wells’ ‘Africa ‘95’.  Semela and Khadijatou shared creative vision and drew up longer term plans to work together.  Isigi Dance Theatre dancers joined Manyanani’s production at Sadlers Wells. Invited to return in December 1995, she brought first cast of her newly established ‘Isigi Dance Theatre Company’ of five strong in Contemporary, West African and Street Dance technique etc. Graduate female dancers with unique skills (Samantha Campbell, Ukachi Akalawu, Michelle Harris and Talita Moffat). With their strong contribution, they were popular with people and were a huge part of a building on the cultural exchange which began the year before between Soweto Dance Theatre and a group from Washington DC called Alpha Phi Alpha (led by Howard University’s Brian Williams).The project was called ‘Step Afrika’.  A series of Workshops, classes in dance mainly, African Dance, Gumboot and Stepping. 

The South African hosts Soweto Dance Theatre (managed by Thembinkosi Hlatswayo and Jackie Semela) provided venue, accommodation, participants, marketing and logistics. “Soon our international presence in Yeoville, in Soweto Township and around Johannesburg spread the news of the tri-continental international exchange. 

Our activities attracted attentions of South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Television and other national and local press.  We were soon being interviewed on ‘Good Morning South Africa’ and outside broadcasts from Soweto brought our work to the country-wide populations of South Africa.  A great beginning!”

Representing both London, UK, West African and African-Caribbean culture, Isigi Dance Theatre was armed with a wealth of Contemporary, Street and African Dance Techniques and Physical Theatre/Performance Skills. Apart from Choreography and teaching, Khadijatou’s role was assisting the hosts in co-ordinating the Artist Exchange Programming, Management, being a public speaker and representative of the UK team for the exchange, to Media Marketing/PR, at British Council corporate receptions and at Fieldtrips meetings rural leaders.  That first year, ’95, we began with a 3-day rural fieldtrip to Venda province.  10 hours drive from Jo’burg by road. A truly magical experience! The Venda people shared their colourful and rich traditional dances, music, direct knowledge about celebrations and ritual and the highlight was meeting the Queen of the Venda.  December 1995 began a lasting partnership that evolved into Khadijatou starting Step Afrika! UK.  1995 represented a true international unity of young creative entrepreneurial Africans on the continent and those of the African Diaspora.  The following years would see evolution.

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Step Afrika! UK
The idea for Khadijatou starting ‘Step Afrika! UK’ was to share by open up the international experience to many other like minded and progressive UK and European based performers and people with other relevant creative skills to join to go to South Africa together under an ‘umbrella’ or ‘team’.  With experience of the outcome of the first international tour with my company it was obvious that ‘strength in unity’ was crucial for a long-lasting and successful project. 

UK participants were part of a ‘UK Team’ and could remain ‘the individual Artist’ and were able to lead workshops or participate in workshops as part of organised programme drawn up by Soweto Dance Theatre (with all three key partners’ workshops input programmed) over a two week period every December.  There was also an annual fieldtrip that backed-up and supported our Soweto-based workshops and studies.  Going to meet the Venda, Zulu, Sotho, Indebele, Shangan etc, gave all a deeper understanding of indigenous South African cultures in it’s original setting and context.  It also gave participants from SA, USA and UK opportunity to meet many South Africans in direct inter-cultural exchange over several days, including formally meeting dignitaries such as Ministers, African Royalty, Cultural Leaders, invitations part in Performances, Ritual Celebration, and Festivals etc. 

In December 1996, all Step Afrika! Workshop Festival partners and key guest tutors (Khadijatou, H Patten, Kamal El Alaoui from the SA! UK team) sat together after another successful December and consciously decided to create what we renamed the ‘Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival’.  It was a very joint venture.  This International Cultural Festival’ was the first tri-continental venture of its type. 

Jackie Mbuyiselwa Semela: August 2003
Dancer, Choreographer, Leader of Soweto Dance Theatre, Director of Step Afrika! South Africa and Host of the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival’.  The untimely death of founder member and key creative conceptualiser/partner, Jackie Semela in 2003 was a devastating blow.  He had just returned to South Africa after a successful trip to the UK. He was in planning meetings with Khadijatou in England just six days previously, making huge plans for a production and working with Johannesburg’s twin City of Birmingham.  He left a wife, Thuli Semela,  and his only daughter Thabile.

Losing Semela had a huge impact on family, company, community, many hundreds of young and older people in South Africa who grew up having taken class or training or encouragement from Jackie. 

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Semela served on 5 Boards of Directors and was working on Step Afrika! South Africa mostly on his own at point of his passing, so uncertain times followed regarding any ‘smooth handover, growth or continuance. As Jackie Semela was a dynamic and a main link for the existence of ‘Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival’, it was difficult to see who could possibly take on that huge role.  We did continue, with Thembinkosi Hlatswayo, one of the original Managers of SDT who’d returned from Tour.  We continued and ran another 3 years consecutively until the 10th Anniversary of the ‘Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival’ programmes held in Soweto, which Khadijatou MC hosted on stage.   Everything had changed.  Although the demand for our successful programmes was still there amongst the young performers attending, and the international participants interested in attending was still there, but the Partners eventually realized there was no longer a strong joined or united vision.  Each country leader focused on developing its own solo national programmes. The tri-continental communication, as it was, slowly ceased.  Khadijatou developed and evolved as an Artist.  She still runs programmes for Step Afrika! UK ‘on-demand’ and regularly returns to South Africa meeting Soweto Dance Theatre dancers who’ve performed world-wide in numerous successful productions such as Umoja, Afrika! Afrika!, African Footprints, Lion King etc and other Provincial Festival collaborators.

Giving Credit where Credit is Due:
FACT:  The ‘Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival’ was hosted by South Africans and attended by thousands of young performers over the years.  Soweto Dance Theatre with annual attendance from partners Step Afrika! USA (Dir: Brian Williams) and Step Afrika! UK (Dir: Khadijatou Doyneh with Soweto Carnival produced by Kamal El Aloui) - ALL THREE PARTNERS jointly developed, hugely invested in and ran the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival for 10years together before the first re-structure break. 

Step Afrika! UK’s projects, cultural exchanges and performance continues in the UK.  It is one project that has enjoyed overall success every year it has been run.  A lot of effort, time, skills, finances, travel, business agreements and support breathed real life into it annually.  A lot of the UK’s top professional dancers ‘inspired’ it and were also inspired by SA!UK’s work, and came to the Step Afrika! International Cultural Festival when we attended annually.  Khadijatou worked with H. Patten and Kamal El Alouias ‘Festival Co-coordinators’ for four years or more and as a team, our work and contribution to South African arts was recognized and backed by the British Council for four years.  After H. Patten resigned, the successful work continued and grew successfully for years led by Khadijatou Doyneh, working with Arts Managers and supported by the Arts Council of England, London Borough of Southwark, schools, Academies and others. 

15 years! Thanks:
Khadijatou would like to thank ALL the Professional Artists and Tutors, Management, Schools, Sponsors and Funders who over the last 15 years have put time, effort and amazing creative skills.  Thanks for seriously contributing to the direction, strength, unity, development, growth and powerful impact that Step Afrika! UK has had amongst thousands of young people and adults alike and internationally with Performances, International Cultural Exchange workshops (including those produced at Sadlers’ Wells and Royal Festival Hall), master-classes and productions. 

Cultural Exchange is as important and progressive now as it was back in 1995.  Although it remained small in size, SA! UK delivered dynamic and relevant output which has been totally appreciated and made a difference to young people’s awareness and involvement in African History, Music, Dance, Drama, Performance and cultural arts.  Khadijatou has experienced Step Afrika! UK as a unique success!  As it was, its impact is still felt and it has not been surpassed in all the years – a good legacy. 

Happy to see emergence of many new Festivals and initiatives which more recognise the African peoples dances, culture, history and continually evolving fashionable trends that building through development of music.  

What Legacy?
Many young performers have become GREAT performers.  Some joined companies to train, some in casts in productions worldwide.  Absolute Congrats! Others have evolved in many ways, taken up opportunities in education, jobs touring from Brazil, to Amsterdam, Denmark, China, World Cup etc. Some evolved and took up lecturing and Professorships in South Africa and abroad, including in the UK etc.  Thank you to South African Artists, the dancers from the original Soweto Dance Theatre, young participants, Cultural Tutors in Soweto and Rural Provinces, Cultural Leaders, Management, Sponsors and supporters.   Finally, thank you to all who came and supported the whole international cultural exchange in London, from South Africa, West Africa, England, UK/Caribbean, Europe as well as the USA.  15 years of Step Afrika! UK - We did well!

UK Artist Roll call includes:
H. Patten, Kamal El Aloui, Samantha Campbell, Ukachi Akalawu, Talita Moffat, Michelle Harris, Coral Messam, Kwesi Johnson, Jonzi D, Jane Sekonya, Leslyn Fraser (visual arts), Everton Wright and Amanda Davis. Poets: Teju Mola, Aamasade, Asapho, Poppyseed and l’il Khayanjah.  Also, In UK: Robert Hylton, Alan Miller, Andrea Franklin, Zanna Bruce, ‘Caribbean Carnival Extravaganza’ – Sonny Blacks, Henri Gao Bi, Usifo Jallo, Landing Mane, Jamo Jamo Arts, Angela Dwyer, Diane Mitchell, Anne-Marie Reid, T. Miller, Tony Cealy, Kat Miles and Bucarr Ndow to name a few.
We are evolving.  Watch this space!

 

Everything Changes, Everything passes.  We evolve…