Step Afrika!’s ‘Drumfolk’ turns an act of oppression into a story of triumph

By Jared Bowen and Molly McCaul, GBH
October 6, 2022

As a student at Howard University, C. Brian Williams became familiar with step within his fraternity, and later explored similar dance practices with the gumboot style of South Africa. Williams founded Step Afrika! in 1994 to trace the history of step beyond its direct origins in the 20th century all the way back to the Stono Rebellion of 1739. The legal retaliation of the Stono Rebellion may have suppressed Black expression in the United States by restricting access to gatherings, drums and writing, but step dance traditions emerged as a means of building community.

Now, Step Afrika! tours internationally, and their Boston residency opened this week. Bowen says the show “got the audience literally on its feet last night, and they come out and the dancers look at you in the audience. They want your engagement. They want your participation,” he said. “Drumfolk” is a rousing, moving performance that, according to Bowen, highlights “the percussive nature of the body and dance and tap.”

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