Abbreviations for American routes: Shaka Zulu

Shaka Zulu: I was in a masking tradition, that’s my father’s African stilt dancing tradition, and that’s our family tradition before I was in a masking tradition in New Orleans. The history of stilt dancing in Africa really started in the Malian Empire I think. When the Mali Empire split into these countries, each country took over the unity of it and created its own folklore. So you had some that came out for baby births, others came out for death. You had some that in the dry season you wanted the stilt walker to come out to bless the grounds and bring rain. In African tradition you will always wear a mask, right? My father developed this tradition of stilt dancing called Free Spirit. So we mainly focused on the African origin of the tradition and just went with it. But when we created the Free Spirit stilt dancer, we incorporated stilts into the New Orleans masking tradition. I thought I should shift the envelope a little and mask fourteen feet in the air. I thought that was a strong statement.

[music]

SZ: I founded Golden Feather in 2018. Being the chief of a tribe is a very, very heavy responsibility because one thing about this tradition is that the chief represents that particular neighborhood. The chief will teach you the history of the tribe. It teaches you how to make soul. You are also responsible for all of these people’s personalities, what they do outside of the tribe because they represent you. The suits are the most important part of it. They take a year-long process to hand embroider and sew the suit.

[music]

SZ: If you take to the streets, you will be judged by it. You know, the craftsmanship, the work you put into the suit, because that’s your claim to fame, I should say. Most of my suits come in a dream. I see it before I actually start designing and beading it. But most of my inspirations for building suits are natural, you know, I’m so passionate about African traditions; So, it’s going to be something African, or it can be something I’m passionate about and want to draw attention to.

[music]

SZ: My everyday life is Africa, you know, so going from an African tradition to understanding a masking tradition was such an easy transition for me because those two traditions are academically, spiritually, culturally and physically intertwined. That’s why we have Voices of Congo Square. Since all of these traditions emanated from Congo Square, we wanted to have a theatrical production that would tell this story of the history of New Orleans Black Mardi Gras traditions on stage through music, song and dance. We do what we do to remain true to ourselves as people in the city we now call New Orleans. You know, now I’m really concerned with training the next generation in such a way that they also come into this culture with an economic approach. You practice it, you do it right, you conserve it, but you also use it to sustain your life with it.

To hear the full program, tune in to WWNO Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. or listen at americanroutes.org.

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