“Colors of Rhythm” Highlights POC Performances
Student artists of color took the stage in Finney Chapel for the 21st annual Colors of Rhythm showcase last Thursday night, showcasing languages, instruments and dance traditions underrepresented in Oberlin classes and campus life.
This year, the event featured spoken word performers, singers, OCTaiko, the Filipinx American Students’ Association Band, a dance group from the African Students Association, Descendants of the Dragon, Movimiento and a variety of other groups. One band performed in Tagalog, the majority language of the Philippines. Another group performed an Afro-Peruvian song, and audience members were invited to dance in the aisles during the performance of a Dominican piece.
“I was amazed by [the] audience’s enthusiasm toward [my] and Hengxuan’s performance,” said College sophomore Skyler Yin, who performed “Dance of Yi People,” a traditional Chinese piece. “This piece is about celebrating the beautiful life of Yi people, a minority group in China. … Colors of Rhythm strives to gain recognition for minority groups around campus, which made it a perfect platform for us to perform.”
For two decades now, Colors of Rhythm has created a space for POC performance and protest through performative art. “This event began as a constructive protest against what the curriculum and academic departments at Oberlin do not cover,” the mission statement reads. “By addressing issues such as lack of resources for and the recognition, valuing [and] visibility of certain cultural dance forms by the mainstream culture on campus, CoR is a form of cultural activism and protest.”
“I did not think much about Chinese traditional music before the event, since Oberlin is mainly surrounded by Western musics,” Yin said. “But after the performance, I was very proud of our Chinese traditional music and of how everybody was enchanted by it.”
For College first-year Kyndelle Johnson, a programming associate at the Multicultural Resource Center and one of the organizers of this year’s event, the motivations behind the creation of Colors of Rhythm in 1997 are still relevant today because a great deal of the programming on campus is still centered on white traditions and performance.
She was thrilled by how Thursday’s event went but wished that more students had shown up to support the performances by student artists of color.
“I think it’s an awesome event, and I wanted to see a lot more Obies and students in Finney that night, because it wasn’t jam-packed,” she said.
College junior Andre Cardine, who performed with the dance group Kinetique and sang both individually and with others, reflected on what makes Colors of Rhythm an important event to have on campus.
“Colors of Rhythm is a moment where a lot of student-led groups that are organized by people of color get together and have the opportunity to share the same space and same platform,” he said. “It’s a safe space for POC. It’s a creative space. It’s a performance space, and it’s a place where we can share our stories and perform. … It was fun to have the opportunity to showcase the things I can do and also showcase myself as an artist.”
OCTaiko, one of the larger groups to perform, presented a piece called Minna Ikimashou. The spectacularly coordinated performance, which physically shook the chapel, was an exhilarating opening to a night that would maintain these high levels of energy from beginning to end.
“Having the space allows students of color … to express themselves and also show the community what we have on campus on a larger scale,” said College junior and member of OCTaiko Jenny Pham. “Not only do we have this community, … but we’re able to show it to others so that people can see what we’re all about. … For me personally, it’s probably one of the most highlighted events of the whole school year.”
One of the ways in which the impact of Colors of Rhythm lasts beyond the hour-and-a-half showcase is through ticket sales. Proceeds have historically been donated to organizations including the Yakubu Saaka Memorial Scholarship Fund, a scholarship for citizens of any African country who are applying to Oberlin, and the Oberlin Community Youth Scholarship Fund, which provides financial support toward higher education for college-aged students residing within the Oberlin school district. This year, proceeds from the show went to the Undocumented Students Scholarship Fund, which is used for tuition and emergency funds to support undocumented students.
“Especially under the new administration and in today’s political atmosphere, it’s a community that deserves a lot of support and spotlight in terms of funding,” Johnson said.
From the moment the show began, the audience was encouraged to be more than passive observers. The hosts gave a crash course in call and response for audience members who might not be familiar with this aspect of POC performance art, and the audience responded by cheering and encouraging performers throughout every act. Standing ovations punctuated the evening.
College senior Ashley Suarez, who has attended Colors of Rhythm every year since she came to Oberlin, was especially enthusiastic about the variety of performance types represented on stage this year.
“Sometimes in the past, there was a lot more dancing or a lot more singing, but this time was [more] even — and from a variety of groups, so that was really cool,” she said. “Every time, I just love seeing people doing the things that they love to do. It’s really inspiring and gets me really pumped up and excited.”