Dropping the Beat at LA’s Freshest Dance Party

By Amin El Gamal

“Africa is the drum.”

I couldn’t get that phrase put of my head after talking with Grammy-nominated Afro Roots star Rocky Dawuni, who is headlining the Ford’s season finale Africa Rising on October 15.

“Africa is the drum.”

It’s astonishing when you think about it. Every modern musical form with a beat owes something to the musical traditions of Africa. Rocky describes his own sound as “everything from gospel to Afro beats, highlife, hip-hop and soul.” And the show itself covers even more territory, including cumbia, jazz, reggae and even pop.

“[Africa Rising] represents something that is on a bigger scale than just a continent,” said Rocky. “It’s Africa that has manifested in every land and every culture and every social circle – that’s what we’re celebrating.”

The show, which is being produced by LA’s longest running African diaspora-inspired club night Afro Funke’, will feature an epic, eclectic lineup that pays tribute to many African musical traditions. Aside from Rocky and his 11-piece band, other highlights of the evening include one-night-only collaborations with artists like Dexter Story and Zap Mama’s frontwoman Marie Daulne, renowned DJs Jeremy Sole of KCRW and Glenn Red, and NAACP Image and SAG award-winning actor Isaiah Washington, who is serving as host.

Afro Funke' poster

“The thing I am proudest of about Afro Funke’ is that our community includes all races and all ages,” said manager and photographer Cary Sullivan, who cofounded Afro Funke’ with Rocky. “We have 70-plus-year-old white folks dancing alongside Pilipino club kids. It is truly a beautiful thing to behold – the power of good music to bring people together.”

And bringing people together is exactly what they hope Africa Rising will do.

“We are in a time when rhetoric on the side of divisiveness is being amplified,” Rocky added. “Music is one of the purist mediums of creating agreement and mutual understanding. The show uses cultural collaboration as a way to remind us to embrace each other.”

For Rocky, music has always been inseparable from activism. He was born and raised on a military base in Ghana, during a time when the military was heavily involved in politics. “It was a hotbed of ideas and philosophies. People were trying to find ways of nation building and creating community. I wanted to be a part of it,” Rocky said. “Music was my way of disseminating and amplifying ideas.”

Indeed, using music to better society and strengthen family is inherent in many African traditions. “When someone is born there’s music, in spiritual gatherings there’s music, in marriage and death there’s music,” he said.

Since his days in the barracks, Rocky has been heavily involved in a number of issues including sustainable development and was recently named a UN Global Ambassador alongside no less than Julia Roberts.

Although he hopes to shed light on issues and inspire action during Africa Rising, “I don’t want to set a lot of lofty ideals. The only ideal is that it will be a night to have a good time, to celebrate the multiculturalism that makes LA great and, most importantly, to dance!”

89.9 KCRW and Afro Funke' present Africa Rising on Saturday, October 15 at 7:00 p.m.