Situated in Horton Place, Prana lounge facilitates a distinct blend of cultures and spirituality, along with diverse health and beauty activities that caters to central Colombo. The period house with its display of Balinese jewellery and batiks implies a miniature explosion of different cultures. The lounge was set up by Annie de Silva and Anja Meixner to realize their vision of bringing a wellness centre to Colombo. On Friday July 8, the lounge was graced by Earth Goddess Shamanic Tantrika Malaika MaVeena D’arville. Although the name is quite a mouthful, the former part of it is a title. And her purpose was to teach us mere mortals African chanting and dance.
Before every African dance Malaika makes an offering, she plants a tree. “I won’t be here to eat the fruits, but I plant fruits everywhere I go,” she says. She plays the Illimbah, a fascinating African musical instrument from Tanzania. Its melody reminds one of flowing water in a river. “It’s for storytelling, singing and calling the rain,” she says confirming the watery vibe.
The African dancing is always done in a circle. It represents an energy flow, where right hand goes down and the left hand goes up. The dance begins with honouring the ancestors. Each person calls out their names and names the ethnic groups they are descended from. Then the chant and dance begin, honoring the lineage on both fathers’ and mothers’ side.
Eee ae eee ae eee mama,
Eee ae eee ae eee baba,
The chanting begins with hands that points downwards then upwards and then again downwards, as the feet moves rhythmically to either side. The next song was to call in joy.
Then, the dance proceeds to portray different tribes, greeting each other, while chanting. As the session progressed, the hard wood floors rang back with the echo of feet, tracking time with movements. The whole room reverberated with the beautiful timeless melodies of African chanting. The dance movements expressed rhythm, self and something wordless. One forgets everything else for a moment. It was another world, in another place and time.
Born in Canada, Malaika spent the early part of her life in Australia. “When I found warm tropical countries, I wished someone would tell the Canadians that the ice age is over,” she says. She went on to study a Bachelor in Marine Biology, but she was not happy with the methodology of science. “It was very much killing and dissecting creatures,” she says.
“Connecting with nature has, always been my greatest teacher.” Later in life she went to live in a deserted island called El Nino, Swiss Family Robinson style. “It was while there that I realized what I really wanted to do was learn African dance,” she says.
She travelled with her family to Africa, to fulfill her dream, and was adopted by an African village. She was there for one year and African dance was one of the many things she learnt there. “When we came back to Australia people asked us to teach. I got into teaching by default,” she says. In Africa, life can be very tough. The major livelihood there is farming. “But, they make light of their life, singing, dancing and celebrating. I like to bring that to everyone. To celebrate how amazing life is, to have a body and to be able to dance. That is what our ancestors did. When people dance, the shakthi or the energy wakes up,” she says.
She believes the whole feminism movement is about being feminine via dance and music.” We should bring about female empowerment by being female, not by being strong men,” she says. “African dancing is about bringing people together as a community, it’s about opening your voice and singing and uplifting ourselves. When you dance you move the body, breathe, sweat and release endorphins, it naturally makes anybody feel good,” she says. African dancing could be used for healing depression, connecting to the body and for bringing joy. It is about spirituality. “Rhythm is a beautiful thing. It does something to our spirit. Dance is the first religion that people knew. In the ancient times, all religions included dancing,” she opined.
African dance and chant is one of those things that one experiences randomly in life, but remembers for the rest of it. Some of the dancing steps displayed similarities to Kandyan dance, Belly dance and stomp the yard. The energizing evening was coordinated by Nathali Abeynayake.