Adanu Habobo performs a blend of traditional African music and dances at the Roundhouse Theatre on May 11 and 12. The group, headed by co-directors Curtis Andrews and Kofi Gbolonyo PhD., will feature a variety of dance styles and music from Ghana, Zimbabwe and be joined by Cote d’Ivoire native Kesseke Yeo.
“For me, dance is like a medicine. When you’re having a bad day and you see an artist doing something good in the street, and you watch them for maybe 10 minutes, that helps you. You forget what problems you have like, that helps you already. So we can try to help the artists, the artists are very important in society,” says Yeo.
Following in the footsteps
Born and raised in Cote d’Ivoire, Yeo decided from a young age he wanted to become a great dancer. His father and uncle were both renowned dancers in his country, so following in their footsteps wasn’t going to be easy. But Yeo recounts the day this was pointed out to him, and how it inspired him to try even harder.
“One day when I was little, someone made fun of my dancing and said, ‘Your dad was a good acrobat, but you can’t do what your dad was doing,’ and I was very mad about that,” says Yeo. “So from there, whenever I went in the farm, I’d start training myself, doing the acrobatics and jumping. Some days I’d go out in the farm, and I wouldn’t do the job, I’d just do dancing.”
Despite his uncle’s ire at him not doing his job on the farm, he couldn’t deny Yeo’s ability and drive, and so he gave him the chance to participate in competitions. Yeo’s efforts were met with considerable success.
“I was one of the best in the north of Ivory Coast,” says Yeo. “Everywhere we’d go for competitions, me and my group were always number one.”
After winning one of the bigger competitions in the country, at the 13-year-old, with his group, he would go on to travel with the state-sponsored Ivory Coast’s National Ballet. “Ballet” in this case, Yeo says, isn’t so much the traditional European ballet as it is an adopted name for similarly strong and often acrobatic dances.
Yeo went on to perform throughout Europe, but as political corruption led to less funding of the arts, Yeo went on to perform with other groups, eventually being offered in 2001 to come to Canada, where he’s remained since.
Yeo enjoys living in Vancouver, but it was better when there were more opportunities for artists and performers like him. Now, he says, it’s simply not viable to work on his craft full-time, even when he has diversified his skill-set to playing drums, percussion, and playing kora (a West African string instrument) and teaching dance as well.
“When I perform, people say ‘Oh Kesseke, the way you dance!’ and appreciate me, that helps me for weeks, and I feel very happy,” says Yeo. “But when I go to work at 5 o’clock in the morning and the supervisor comes and yells at you, even when you do your best to make him happy, he’s never happy. They just give you a cheque, never a ‘Thank you for doing this job’.”
Originally, the company that had contracted him to come to Canada to dance had taken care of promotion, but Yeo says there have been more challenges since leaving the company than just getting his name out.
“Everybody wants artists to volunteer,” says Yeo. “They don’t think like ‘This guy’s an immigrant here, when he’s sick he’ll still want to pay rent.’ They don’t think about that when they call you asking you to come do things for free for the community.”
When it comes to keeping arts and culture in Vancouver, the efforts being taken must reflect the importance of keeping it alive, says Yeo, and more than just for his own sake.
“I hope the new generation can encourage artists, African artists, Canadian musicians, any colour that is trying to make music here, this next generation needs to wake up to support these people,” says Yeo.
Yeo is more than ready to work with Andrews again, and hopes to see more shows bring together the talent offered up by many Afro-Canadian artists and performers in Vancouver.
For more information on the show, visit www.adanuhabobo.com
For more on Yeo, visit www.kissofafrica.ca.