New York African Burial Ground 2004 - Brooklyn Musart Steelband

Steelpan Music and Instruments Celebrate Ancestors

Cicely Tyson and Bobbi Humphrey brought spoken word and music as Ms. Tyson in her always regal manner read "I, Too" by Langston Hughes.


Musart Steel

The Steelpan, an incredible invention by the descendants of African slaves who were brought to the western hemisphere, played a prominent role in the celebration services for the Ancestors at the historical 17th-19th century African burial ground in New York, where nearly 20,000 Africans from as early as the 17th century are buried.

It is indeed fitting that the steelpan would be present at this great event as it is the only instrument invented in this century. Moreover, the largest group of steelpan instrument players outside of Trinidad, the birthplace of the instrument, resides in New York City. The music by the young steelpan group, Musart Steel surely had the Ancestors smiling as they enjoyed the performance and creative genius of their descendants. The steelpan instrument has become the instrument of choice of the youth. No other musical instrument has experienced such growth and demand. Organized steelpan groups can now be found on every sector of the globe.

Boys and Girls Harlem Choir
Boys and Girls Harlem Choir

The Ancestors were treated to a first-class concert as their lives were celebrated with the spoken word, song, dance, music and rhythm. The audience was treated to a first-time ever combination of musical greats Huge Masekela paired with the world-renowned Boys and Girls Harlem Choir. The voices of the Ebony Ecumenical Ensemble echoed off the surrounding New York buildings with soul-stirring traditional black gospel music. Their spiritual energies connected not only with the audience, but also with the souls of the Ancestors.

Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee

Cicely Tyson and Bobbi Humphrey brought spoken word and music as Ms. Tyson in her always regal manner read “I, Too” by Langston Hughes.

Not to be outdone 5-year old Autumn gave a masterful oratory of her own work “Flying on Ancestral Spirits” as she delivered it in both English and Arabic... She received thunderous applause from the audience.

The audience was also treated to a special presentation by movie and theatre superstars Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis as they read the speech originally delivered by H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, the president of Nigeria at his September 22, 2004 presentation of a special five-foot marble plaque. The text of the speech was engraved into the plaque which was a gift from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Prepared by the Nigerian president himself, the speech called for the reconciliation between Africans, and Africans in the Americas. Mr. Obasanjo is the first African head of state to visit the Burial Ground since the re-interment of the excavated remains of the enslaved Africans on October 4, 2003.

Pan Caribbean Children's Dance Company
Pan Caribbean Children’s Dance Company

The Marie Brooks Pan Caribbean Children’s Dance Company performed an emotion-evoking dance interpretation of Hugh Masekela’s Stimela. Stimela, also known as Coal Train, is a song about the forcible removal and transportation by train of the black men of Africa from their families, to the gold mines of the infamous Cecil Rhodes. The youngsters depicted in dance, the agony of the journey and what it meant to the families of Africa whenever they heard “Choo Choo” trains. It was a performance that surely reached back through time to the ancestors who were on those trains, and all affected. Hugh Masekela paid tribute to the Ancestors with phenomenal performances, including those with the Boys’ and Girls’ Harlem Choir.

The three-day event was part of the AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND PRODUCTION and coordinated by the Schomburg Center.

Cicely Tyson, about to deliver an oratory at the African Burial Ground
Cicely Tyson, about to deliver an oratory at the African Burial Ground, 2004


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