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Rapso artiste Sista Ava to receive award at the 2018 Yoruba Village Drum Festival

Published: 
Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Sista Ava (Ruth Ava Sam Shallow), the first woman to receive the Keeper of the Tradition Award from the Emancipation Support Committee of T&T. PICTURE PETER BLOOD

Dancer, poet, chanter, story teller, community and cultural activist, Sista Ava (Ruth Ava Sam Shallow), will become the first woman to receive the Keeper of the Tradition Award from the Emancipation Support Committee of T&T (ESCTT). The presentation of the award is one highlight of the tenth anniversary of Yoruba Village Drum Festival, scheduled to take place on Saturday, June 16 at the Yoruba Village Square, located at Piccadilly Street, opposite the new Besson Street Police Station and the Deliverance Temple. The Festival is scheduled to begin at 2 pm.

The Yoruba Village Drum Festival is held annually on the day before Father’s Day, in tribute to the fathers of the community. It is also in recognition of ancestors of the community, the Yoruba-speaking population, who resided there from the 19th century, at which time the community was known as Yoruba Village and Yoruba Town.

The Yoruba people, who were rescued from the ships of British, France and Spanish plunderers, following the abolition of the Slave Trade, were brought to that part of the city of Port- of-Spain, where they resided as free men and women. They came originally, mainly from Nigeria, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Togo. Today the only semblance of the town’s history and existence is the Yoruba Village Square.

However, despite the persistent, calculated and prolonged efforts to deculturalise the community, many of the rich customs and tradition of the Yoruba, remain in the Yoruba Village, which is synonymous with East Port-of-Spain and include, Belmont, Gonzales, Morvant and Laventille. Indeed, it is from within the bowels of this community of highly spiritual and inventive Yoruba people that the steelband, calypso and many aspects of our Carnival traditions originated.

The Keeper of the Tradition Award is presented annually to someone who has worked diligently to preserve and develop African art forms and traditions in the community. This year’s first female awardee, Sista Ava, grew up in an environment with strong African spiritual influences. Her mother was the founder and matriarch of a Spiritual Baptist Healing School and Ava lived next door to the Ile of Egbe Onisin Eledumare where she was initiated into the African spiritual tradition of the Orisha and now holds the position of Youth Arm Officer.

Sista Ava’s cultural journey began as a pannist with Merrytones Steel Orchestra of Diego Martin. While residing in the Laventille community her father facilitated her involvement in the Best Village competitions as a dancer and dramatist - first with the Lower Laventille Folk Performers and then the Reflex Dance Company, where she became the lead dancer. She went on to work with the Pamberi Steel Orchestra as a rapso artiste and in 1995, she was initiated into the Rapso movement as a solo performer and as a member of the Network Rapso Riddim Band, with Brother Resistance at the helm. She has also taken her rapso performances to the calypso tents, including Kaiso House, Klassic Ruso and the Divas Calypso Cabaret.

Sista Ava, who is also a qualified nurse, has also been working within communities, from Port-of-Spain to Petit Valley to Point Fortin to Valencia with women and children. In the Yoruba Village she has worked at the Credo Centre for Boys, the St Dominic’s Children’s Home and in the communities of Belmont, Beetham, and Charford Court ensuring the retention of our African tradition. In these communities she assisted young people in the development of skills in construction and playing of drums, in the oral tradition including rapso and storytelling. Her outreach has included the prisons where she worked with inmates to also develop skills in the oral tradition as part of the Prison Rehabilitation Programme.

Sista Ava’s work as a performer and in the communities and institutions of T&T has defined her as a cultural activist, a Rapso Queen, who delivers her messages both on stage and among the people to ensure that her listeners are enlightened and empowered by her words and action. She is the recipient of awards from the Diego Martin Regional Corporation as well as from Servol in recognition of the work she has already done and continues to do.

Along with Sista Ava, a male and female young person of the Yoruba Village, will also be awarded for his / her achievement, in recognition of the United Nations International Day of the African Child and all performing fathers will receive a gift from the ESCTT.

At the Drum Festival, drumming groups and dancers include Wasafoli, St James Police Youth Club, 2nd Freeport Sea Scouts, St James Cultural Artisans, Belan Drummers, Sogren Trace Laventille Enhancement Organisation, Frontline Drummers, Egbe Omo Oni Isese, Daffodils and Persistent Drummers, Drum Line, San Juan South Cultural Organisation, Ghanaian Association of T&T, Yoruba Village Heritage College.

Performing will also be rapso and reggae artistes including Oba Dread, Curious Ringo, Mc Meo, Gillian Gould, Lion Ro Lion, Soul Fyah, Wise One, Knocker, Brother Book and Butcha, backed by the Black Beat International Band.

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