Detroit and Zimbabwean cultures collide as the JIT Exchange puts the two into dialogue through music and dance in UMMA’s Museum Apse this Thursday, Sept. 14.
The performance will feature Detroit dancer and choreographer, Haleem “Stringz” Rasul, Zimbabwean guitarist Mono Mukundu and SMTD grads of the E. Reid JIT Coalition: Everett Reid, Alexis Lombre and Marcus Elliot.
Thursday’s performance is just one part of a much “bigger narrative,” Rasul explained. What started off as just a video exchange between Rasul and Zimbabwean dancer Franco “Slomo” Dakha, the exchange program grew as Rasul began his own time in Zimbabwe.
The JIT exchange is hosted by the University’s Center for World Performance Studies and the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies in collaboration with the Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit. The event will be a conversation between Detroit’s Jit and Zimbabwe’s Jiti, two distinct styles of music and dance.
In 2015, Rasul spent five weeks researching, facilitating workshops, teaching and meeting different artists in three different Zimbabwean cities: Harare, Mutare and Bulawayo. Immersed in Zimbabwean culture, Rasul collaborated with Dakha, facilitated Jibilika — a dance competition and festival — and was documented day by day by a Zimbabwean videographer. New roots were planted in the search for the old roots of Jiti.
“(The exchange) opened up the door for everything else to follow,” Rasul said. As connections were made and relationships grew, the foundations for the upcoming performance were built.
For those unfamiliar, Detroit Jit is a regional dance style which emerged in the 1970s, comprised of fast footwork, armwork and floorwork, and accompanied by beat-heavy music. Around the same time, a Zimbabwean music genre called Jiti emerged. The JIT exchange will bring Jit and Jiti together into the same space as the artists respond to each other and to the unique aspects of each style. Through music and dance, a cultural dialogue will emerge.
Though the two styles emerged through distinct cultural contexts, they originated in the same era. As a result, similarities can be seen. One particular similarity is Detroit Jit’s Funk Shuffle and Zimbabwean Jiti’s Borrowdale, two movements which developed on opposite sides of the world, yet incorporate the same pacing with the feet.
While both styles incorporate fast footwork, Jit and Jiti each have distinct elements stemming from their cultural roots.
“I’ve tried to Jit to their music and likewise, and it’s just a different feel with their music — their music is very guitar based and ours is more beat and percussion based,” Rasul said. “Zimbabwean Jiti has a lot of hip movement. We have hip movement too, but it’s coming from a different place, you know, we feel a vibe.”
Music predominantly determines the feel of the dance which accompanies it. Through the tempo, the rhythm, the instruments used and the character, a dancer feels the music and moves with the music. The music inspires a unique set of moves and a particular feel which give way to the dance style.
While the original intention was to bring Dakha to Detroit for the second phase of the exchange program and the Thursday performance, visa complications delayed the exchange. As a result, the performance will be more heavily focused on the music of Jiti while Rasul responds in dance. Rather than routines choreographed collaboratively by Dakha and Rasul, the performance will be more of an improvisational performance between Zimbabwean music and the Detroit Jit. More spontaneous in style than a choreographed routine, the performance is sure to bring out new ideas and moves.
The JIT Exchange will bring attention to two dynamic cultures: one rooted across the world and the other just 40 minutes outside of Ann Arbor. The exchange will continue on as Rasul brings his own experience home to perform, to educate and to promote both Detroit and Zimbabwean culture.
“I hope people get inspired to learn something new,” Hasul said.
Detroit has so much to offer in art and ideas, and while it is so close to Ann Arbor, there is a vast unawareness of past and current ongoings. While Hasul traveled to another continent to experience and learn from another culture, the JIT Exchange will bring two unique cultures right here to Ann Arbor, and leave the audience ready for more.