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African storyteller spins tales

"Ago?" asked African storyteller Linda Humes as she moved before the small audience gathered at the Auburndale public library.

"Amee," responded the audience after a little coaching.

Humes explained that storytellers from Ghana begin each new tale with the call "ago" and response "amee," which mean "are you listening?" and "yes."

Referring to herself as an urban "griot" - French for African storyteller - Humes brought her years of training to the library Feb. 2 for a special African-American history month celebration.

A graduate of New York University, Humes is the founder and artistic director of Yaffa Cultural Arts Inc., a city-based nonprofit organization specializing in multicultural folk arts. She has performed at numerous storytelling festivals and acted in a variety of commercials and motion pictures.

She said that in African culture, storytelling was used to entertain, educate, inspire, empower and to pass history from generation to generation. She said families would hire griots to attend important "transformation times" such as births, weddings and funerals.

"It's just like you hire a family doctor, lawyer, whatever," she said.

Griots' tales are always accompanied by some type of music, either performed by the storyteller or a musician, she said.

Hume said that in general there are two different camps of storytellers - those who remain seated and use only their voices to tell the tale and those whose use of vocals, movements and props brings their presentations closer to theatrics.

"I fall somewhere in the middle," Hume said.

When spinning her tales, which vary in subject depending on the age of her audience, Hume does not sit still. Instead, she becomes the story - extending her arms for tree branches, growling like a lion, flapping her arms like a beetle's wings, pretending to shoot a rifle - to help spectators envision the action. Her voice is loud, her pronunciation precise and her face as animated as the rest of her body.

Hume's tales included two inspirational fables whose heroes - a small turtle and slow beetle - were underdogs, an environmental tale from the American South about a great pigeon hunter and his last target and a rap about the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hume noted that the Brazilian tale involving a race between the slow beetle and a fast rat was not only similar to the familiar "tortoise and the hare" but to a variety of other stories from other countries.

"In Jamaica they have a story about a toad and a donkey," Hume said. "In all cultures you will find similarities in stories."

One audience member said she had heard a story from Thailand which was similar to the tale of the last pigeon. The rap told the story of King, with lyrics like "bang bang, oh, the king is dead, bang bang, but not the words he said" and a chorus - "there was a man named Martin, named Martin Luther King, he took a stand, he didn't bargain, he demanded everything."

"Rap is just a development of the oral tradition of storytelling," Hume told the audience. "It's just another evolution."

Whenever she could, Hume involved the audience of two young girls and seven adults in her storytelling, having them take on character roles, sing a chorus or play instruments.

She ended her performance with a farewell song from Guinea during which audience members identified themselves by their first names.

Asked if she was disappointed at the small turnout, Hume said no.

"There's an old acting saying," she said. "You have to give the same quality performance if there's one or 1,000 in the audience."

"It just changes a little bit of the dynamics," Hume said.

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AnimalMan from Manhattan says:
Abiodun Oyewole was the rapper who wrote "There Was A Man" in 1985 - he should get credit in this article.
Nov. 3, 2011, 1:34 pm

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