Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble steps into new season

UAD founder Robert Dickerson's son and grandson -- Jamal Dickerson and Jamal Dickerson II --  performing with the legendary Camden-based troupe. (Photo by John Jordan)
UAD founder Robert Dickerson’s son and grandson — Jamal Dickerson and Jamal Dickerson II — performs with the legendary Camden-based troupe.
Credit: John Jordan

When Philly’s own legendary African drum specialist Robert Crowder died in 2012, the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble was a natural choice to play the memorial service. Along with Crowder’s own Kulu Mele, UAD is one of the hubs of African dance and music in the country.

The Painted Bride Art Center’s music curator happened to be at that service, and he instantly decided to program UAD in his next season.

It’s about time the Bride caught on! The Camden-based troupe has been performing for nearly 40 years —through the worst economic downturn in Camden’s history. (Or perhaps any American city’s history?)

“When industry left Camden, so did the arts community. I believe the lack of arts in Camden is huge contributor to violence. People don’t have a healthy way to discover and respect their own humanity,” says Robert Dickerson, who founded UAD in 1984 with his wife, Wanda Dickerson. “It becomes harder to pick up a gun and kill someone when you have some respect for where that person comes from, as well as where you come from. The arts is the best educator. That’s how we see things.”

This Saturday, UAD will kick off the Bride’s new season in a big way, with a parade down second street, a series of workshops, and a full-fledged performance with over 50 dancers and musicians.

And while UAD’s mission is educational, their renowned presentations are anything but dry. Choreographed by Guinean dancer Yalani Bangoura, this weekend’s show is sure to feature the UAD staples: percussion, movement, exuberance and joy.

“My goal has always been to teach African American’s the value of their heritage,” explains Dickerson. “And I think when people witness performances of this kind, they learn something that no book or classroom can teach them.”

Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble
Saturday, Sept. 28
Old City parade, 1 p.m.
Performance, 4 p.m.
The Painted Bride Art Center
230 Vine St.
$15–$20, 215-925-9914
www.paintedbride.org


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