Kenna Cottman embraces what speaks to her soul: African dance, Drumming, Hip-Hop and much more.... !
BY MARY LOU GARZA
Kenna Cottman, wise beyond years, trained by loving, giving, self-actualized proud parents who taught her about her blackness and connection to the greater world and her rich African heritage, grew up in South Minneapolis and currently resides in the Homewood area of North Minneapolis.
Her parents, Bill Cottman, a photographer, and her mother, Beverly Cottman, educator and storyteller, introduced the arts to her from a young age and she embraced what spoke to her soul: the beat, the rhythm, the deep-rooted emotions evoked from African dance and drumming and hip-hop. Kenna explained that she used to think that the djembe drum was basically the only African drum, but later learned that each African tribe/community has its own drum, dance, music, and customs.
She currently teaches sabar drumming and dance through the Sabar Project 2012 funded by the Minnesota Arts Board. The sabar originates from the Serer people from West African Senegal (also played in the Gambia) and is played with one hand and one stick. The djembe, widely known, originated with the Mandinka caste of blacksmiths known as Numuis, and because of the nomadic nature of the tribe is played throughout Africa. The djembe is typically played with both hands. Drumming was a major means of tribal communication in Africa.
Kenna is dedicated to her community and to teaching the arts. She teaches workshop residency programs at various schools throughout the Metro. She has a master’s from Howard University in elementary education. “It is important to teach Black children about their connection to Africa which has been stripped from them. It has to be recreated.” She taught full-time in a Minneapolis public school but found the rigidness of having to teach a specific curriculum restricted the creativity and movement of the way she teaches.
She believes children need a certain amount of freedom and being able to move around is important to self-expression and differing styles of learning. She often intertwined Black history, slavery and the unknown history of the indigenous to teach her students who readily embraced her teaching and often asked profound questions about why things happened in the way they did.
Kenna spoke of the necessity for “Black spaces” for the freedom that they provide to Black children. “Open spaces” for interracial children are also needed to learn the culture of their ancestors to form an appropriate cultural identity—to embrace who they are! There is nothing like the rhythm of drumming, dance, and song to connect to one’s ancestors, making time more cyclical. Her own daughter connected to the movement of music long before she was born and learned to play the drum early on.
Hip hop is a forum to get out the response certain people have to certain situations in life, the innate systemic racism of American culture, the disappointment of being seen as the other, not having the same opportunities as whites, as well as the urgency of dealing with the effects of commercialization and globalization. Hip hop helped Kenna navigate the road of who she is through the poetry and dance of what makes hip hop hip hop. Young women who wanted to dance could connect with their ancestral way of being through movement and dance and become powerful celebrating their womanhood.
Kenna never got confused about who she was, she was happy to be Black because of the nurturing and guidance her parents gave her. She had an amazing childhood that guided her to become who she is today. She went to all-white Montessori schools where her hair was often quite signature and “crazy” and she never quite had the right clothes, yet the schools provided her with the freedom to become.
Current Projects. Now comes the hard part to summarize the many activities and initiatives that Kenna is involved in. Currently, she is the director of Voice of Culture (VoC!), a Black dance company specializing in African dance and drumming with a Black American twist. She recently hosted African Nights 2012 “Africans in the Snow” at Patrick’s Cabaret, June 1 & 2, and formed a band, and continues work on the Sabar 2012 Project bringing the music and dance of Senegal, West African to the Twin Cities.
What’s Next. She plans to go to New Orleans, the seat of Black music, to learn about and experience jazz, funk (home of the Meters), old-time church music, and the richness of hip hop. African music influenced New Orleans music back to Congo Square in 1835, when slaves would congregate there to play music and dance on Sundays. She wants to keep this music alive.
Minneapolis will always be home but Kenna will travel to places as near as the Carolinas or as far as Senegal to continuously learn about the music of the diaspora. I don’t think I’ve done Kenna justice in such a brief article; she is way too talented, “deep,” with a sagacious edge.
source:african Global Roots