Awon Ohun Omnira (Voices of Freedom)


Oh, Lord, Where sinner gone? Oh, Lord, Sinner gone to hell.
Walk, Believer, walk/Rock, Believer, rock
Fly, Believer, fly


Awon Ohun Omnira presents the Ring Shout, a tradition that emerged among enslaved Africans in the United States. The form drew on the spirituality of African ancestors and Biblical mythology to tell stories of lived existence. The set opens with batá drums and songs to the ancestors in Yoruba, completing the circle of history and place, a circle broken by slavery.

Seven song-stories tell of enslaved African people in the United States: 

Kneebone Bend: Kneeling shows captured Africans as Godly people who prayed upon disembarking from the slave ships in North America. 

Blow, Gabriel: Shows belief that judgment will come to the wicked (i.e. the slaveowner).

John on de Island: A sorrowful sound travels across water in the Georgia Sea Islands as an enslaved man, John, is beaten to death. 

Daniel: Designated to procure (steal) the ham for the night’s party, the song directs Daniel to find safety from the overseer’s gaze.

Jubilee: Enslaved people prayed for the day of freedom—Jubilee—for centuries.

Adam and Eve: An interpretation of the Bible story. 

Yonder Come Day: Song signaling the end of the night-long ceremony.

Farewell, Last Day Goin’: Closing ritual and acknowledgment that the community will gather again. 

In the Stono Rebellion of 1739, Congolese men in South Carolina communicated with drums, and thereafter, black people in English colonies were forbidden their language and the drum. But at night, in what was known as the invisible church, the Ring Shout ritual emerged, continuing African rites for ancestors. Hand claps and stick-tapping keep rhythm; a counter-clockwise circle moves along with shuffling feet and subtle gestures. In the 1950s, the Ring Shout began to die out, but one Georgia family, the McIntosh County Shouters, has practiced this ritual continually for at least ten generations. 

Musical Director (Dennis) Tobaji Stewart carries the title Olu Batá, master drummer, and is a renowned instructor of Lucumi-style batá drums and related songs as well as the Ring Shout. 

Awon Ohun Omnira is the performing arm of the Omnira Institute, which provides leadership in creating community for intergenerational African Americans in the Bay Area, bringing historical perspective and spiritual insight of the African diaspora through sacred knowledge and ritual. 

Weekend 2

July 13 & 14


Dance Origin: US
Genre: Ring Shout, African American Ritual

Title: Bi Mo Duro bi mo, lu eyo; Ire mi casha iba,ire mi casha iba; Oni Ofo Bale, Baga Baga; Kneebone Bend; Blow, Gabriel; John on De Island; Daniel; Jubilee; Adam and Eve, Yonder Come Day; Farewell, Las' Day Goin'

Who's Who

Artistic and Musical Director: Tobaji (Dennis) Stewart
Choreographer: Traditional
Costumes: Chisa Jordan
Dancers/Vocalists: Tracy Brown, Carolyn Patton, Estrella Ramey, Wanda Ravernell, Keena Romano, Acacia Woods-Chan
Musicians: Sosu (Alfredo) Randolph (itotele drum, vocals), Tobaji (Dennis) Stewart (iya drum, stick, vocals), Douglas A. Stewart (okonkolo drum, vocals) 

Photo: RJ Muna

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