Performance artist Iyaba Ibo Mandingo presented his production, “Voices of the Streets,” in Frederiksted this past weekend and earned a standing ovation at the Dorsch Theater.
Mandingo is a multidisciplinary artist and native of Antigua. In “Voices of the Streets,” he transplanted his roots back into Caribbean soil after having lived in the mainland for more than 39 years.
Poets Starry Walker, Jahweh David and Geron Richards opened and supported the show.
The show took the audience on a journey through the experience of a Caribbean boy growing into manhood. Mandingo delivered a descriptive and detailed monologue. Born and raised in Antigua, he teleported the Frederiksted audience to his childhood growing up with a single mother and siblings. Nuances of familiarity rang through the air as he remembered his granny’s cocoa tea and “real coco tarts,” he said, rubbing his belly. “Running from moko jumbies and sweet sop. Oh the joy of a third world boy,” he sang.
His references to “Saturday cleansings with cod liver oil, bitters and senna,” struck a chord with many and quite possibly in their bellies.
Set amidst a backdrop made up largely of painted Afrikan Masks, Mandingo was accompanied by an ensemble of percussionists called Djeli. Djeli included Afreekan Southwell, CHANT’s visiting, in-house artist, flautist and guitar player Nysut Sneferu Hotep who is, Mandingo discovered, “his cousin.”
“Finding out that me and Sneferu are cousins made this flow even more magically. It was like he would have a song and I know what it fits perfect for, we would just work out the rest,” Mandingo said.
From describing the real fears and challenges of being a Caribbean man in America to feeling anger at a father who left him as a young child, Mandingo gave the audience a refreshing transparency that could be seen and felt intimately.
Mandingo covered other topics, such as adolescence, police brutality, becoming a father and his evolution into loving himself. His connection to his ancestors was very clear and he embraced how he is a part of them. “The whole purpose and my involvement is to honor an ancestral agreement,” said Hotep.
Mandingo is a seasoned performer who has had the opportunity to teach and perform all over the world, including six sold out Broadway shows in 2017.
When asked what’s next, he sat up tall and said, “We want to leave an imprint on the youth. I want to go back now and learn all the folklore songs I grew up with because this is my job, is to share this history with the youth and encourage them. I found my freedom on the stage and I discovered that I am a storyteller, with a whole bunch of tools. The work continues for the healing of the diaspora and all Africans.” The artist will return to St. Thomas this March for more work.