Kawambe-Omowale dances in Glendale during Black history month

The premiere West African drum and dance theatre group, Kawambe-Omowale, performed at Glendale Community College Feb. 6. This performance was part of GCC’s month long Black History celebration.

Kawambe-Omowale has a passion for learning and demonstrating traditional West African music, handmade cultural costumes and story telling through a performance of dance and drums. The group’s talents are shared across the valley to a wide range of venues. Teaching through an interactive presentation is part of the West African way.

“They are singing about political things, things going on right now, their heroes and she-roes,” lead dancer Debbie Glasper said. “They are maintaining their history through art.”

Professional musician Mel Bridges has been a key part of Kawambe-Omowale as a principal drummer and director for 29 years. He explains that many years ago his wife, Annette, came home one day and told Bridges to check out the reggae jamming session going on at Phoenix’s Eastlake Park Community Center.

There, Bridges met Mark Sunkett, one of the original founders of Kawambe-Omowale, and a professor of percussion music and performance at Arizona State University until his death in 2010. Sunkett’s gravitating personality and Bridges’ passion for music sealed the deal to a long and meaningful relationship together with Kawambe-Omowale.

Bridges, originally from South Jersey, has always loved and lived music. As a youth he performed in church, playhouses and bands. Bridges has performed alongside well known bands such as, Al Green, Journey and The Chilites. In addition, Bridges creates and sings soulful ballads. He was awarded an ariZoni for his appearance in “5 Guys Named Moe.” Bridges is always developing his artistry through his up and coming projects.

“He aims to please the audience,” 20-year Kawambe-Omawale dancer Muslimah Hameed said.

At the the Community Center on Saturday mornings the Kawanbe-Omowale continue to instruct their eager pupils of all ages and backgrounds just like they have from the beginning. The lead dancers take different groups in waves dancing toward the drummers while memorizing the precise movements. The dance and music taught this chilly morning was that of a celebration of the coming of age.

“The energy is good here, there is no judgement so it’s lots of fun and everyone can participate,” dance student Lillian Hameed said. “Everyone is always welcomed.”

Listening to the beating of a couple dozen drummers in a gymnasium almost has a church like feel. Bridges starts getting excited as he walks around adjusting the drumming pupils rhythm.

“Often times the drum is a form of communication, how to play together,” Bridges said. There’s an intricate tuning going on between the drummers and dancers, each beat has to be perfectly in sync with the dancers’ steps. The biggest thing I hope they get out of it is the appreciation of music.”