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Photo: courtesy of Step Afrika!

A Step Above the Rest: Step Afrika! Returns To Strathmore

Step Afrika! was created in 1994 by C. Brian Williams, who wanted to honor the African American ritual of stepping – a polyrhythmic, percussive dance form that uses the body as an instrument – and preserve, expand and promote the art form. 

“We were the first professional company in the world dedicated to the tradition of stepping,” says Williams, the group’s founder and executive director. “It’s a custom dance form first created by African American fraternities and sororities as a way of expressing pride in their organizations.”

Today, the Step Afrika! troupe is comprised of 14 full-time artists. For the past 25 years, the DC-based organization has regularly engaged 30,000 college students across the nation, taught teamwork and discipline to 200 kids as part of the Summer Steps with Step Afrika! summer camp and expanded culture-based arts education for more than 20,000 DC, Maryland and Virginia school students.

The group has also appeared on Broadway and will be returning to the Great White Way in 2020, offering the latest in lightning-fast footwork, percussive chants and incredible synchronicity.

“We take the art form to the next level and put it right up there with ballet, modern and tap,” Williams says. “Our showcase is one of the best ways to get introduced to stepping for those who have never seen it.”

On January 12, Step Afrika! will return to the Strathmore to preview its latest production, Drumfolk. The performance, which was commissioned by Strathmore, traces the roots of step back to the African American percussive traditions of patting juba, hambone, ring shout and tap. 

Drumfolk reflects on the harsh realities of the American South and celebrates the fortitude of enslaved Africans who practiced these transcendent musical forms,” Williams says. “We’re going to be taking this show on a 10-city tour throughout 2020. To have Strathmore get behind us and help us with this work has been super important for us.”

He explains that Drumfolk is based on very little known events in American history that Step Afrika! feels have had a tremendous impact on the country.

“There was a revolt in 1739 called the Stono Rebellion, which was led by Africans against the system of slavery,” Williams says. “These were some of the first activists before the country even formed. Even though it was not successful in overthrowing slavery, it led to the Negro Act of 1740 where Africans lost the right to use their drums. We started to see African Americans using their bodies as the drums, and so many of our art forms can find their origins in his historical moment.”

The Strathmore program will also include Step Xplosion, a showcase of the region’s finest step squads. 

“We’re going to hit the stage at the Strathmore for one of our biggest performances of the year,” Williams says. “This show is where we invite step teams from across the country to share the stage with us and demonstrate the different styles of stepping that can be found across the U.S. This is a uniquely American art form and this show gives audiences a bigger look at the form.”

Among the featured step teams will be Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s Dem Raider Boyz Step Squad; Howard University’s Cook Hall Step Team; Paint Branch High School’s The Eclectic Steppers; the Hype Queens from North Carolina; and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.

A DJ will play music in between the performances and Williams describes the atmosphere as going to be like “a college step show on steroids!” 

“These teams aren’t competing for money, they are just having fun and exhibiting their abilities, style and forms,” Williams says. “The shows are fun. They are interactive and there really is no fourth wall between the audience and the artists. We encourage audiences of all ages to come out, make noise and connect with our performers.”

Prior to the show, Williams will hold a conversation in the Music Center Education Room 402 to discuss the creative process behind Step Afrika!’s Drumfolk program. The talk is free, but registration is required as space is limited.

“I think more people should see and learn about this art form because it is a uniquely American art form and one of the few indigenous dance forms created in the last 100 years,” Williams says. “If you’ve never seen Step Afrika!, it’s a DMV experience that everyone should see at least once. We are DC’s most celebrated dance company and no one else in the word has a company like us.”

Step Afrika! performs at the Strathmore at 5 p.m. on Sunday, January 12. Tickets $35-$75. For more information, visit www.strathmore.org.

The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. Bethesda, MD; 301-581-5100; www.strathmore.org

December Music Picks

MONDAY, DECEMBER 9 – TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Mariah Carey
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Mariah Carey’s album Merry Christmas, and her All I Want For Christmas Is You Tour commemorates her album’s success. Carey recently announced that she will be re-releasing Merry Christmas with its original songs as well as remixes, and a portion of ticket sales from her holiday tour will benefit Toys for Tots. Carey also encourages ticket buyers to bring donations for the program. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $160. The Theater at MGM National Harbor: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; www.mgmnationalharbor.com/entertainment

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 10

Cher: Here We Go Again Tour
The goddess of pop returns to DC for her Here We Go Again Tour. Fans can expect Cher classics as well as songs from her newest album, Dancing Queen, a tribute to ABBA. Special guests Nile Rodgers and Chic will also grace the stage for the North American stint of Cher’s tour. Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $29. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11

The Suitcase Junket
Considering Matthew Lorenz began creating music with repurposed items from the garbage, the professional production of Mean Dog, Trampoline is an enormous step for this self-made entertainer. His classic melodies carry through to his newest album, but artistic tweaks from the production team make these songs more accessible and even more worth hearing at this performance. Doors at 6 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $15. Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E. Vienna, VA; www.jamminjava.com

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 12

Alicia Ward & Joey Antico
Cellist Alicia Ward and percussionist Joey Antico come together for a performance that pairs beautifully with Ward’s stunning melodies and Antico’s percussive prowess. Ward has shared her talent at venues like Carnegie Hall and the Moscow Conservatory, and has won the Lennox International Competition as well as the National Symphony Orchestra Soloist Competition. Antico’s background in jazz traditions promises a unique night as he shares the stage with another thrilling talent. Concert at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $24. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

Rachael & Vilray with Akie Bermiss
Lake Street Dive vocalist Rachael Price lends her velvet voice to an album made in partnership with guitarist, singer and composer Vilray. Their self-titled debut album Rachael & Vilray stars the duo’s shared love for 30s- and 40s-inspired jazz, and their performance is sure to set the mood for a chilly December evening. Akie Bermiss, pianist for Lake Street Dive, joins Price and Vilray on their musical adventure and provides unobtrusive tunes that complement the duo’s playful, bantering lyrics. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Sixth & I: 600 I St. NW, DC; www.sixthandi.org

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 13

Cautious Clay with Remi Wolf
Cautious Clay characterizes his music with electronic twists that make his songs catchy yet soothing. His passion for music shines through his lyrics, and it’s clear that each song reflects an important aspect of his life and career. Remi Wolf’s impressive beats and blunt lyrics will prep the stage for the Cautious Clay main event, and audiences can expect honest and passion-fueled performances. Doors at 10 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

Harry & the Potters
Harry & the Potters will dive into the hidden possibilities of the Harry Potter universe. The group explores an alternate reality in which Harry misuses a time-turner and starts a punk rock band with a past version of himself, and their songs will cover a range of topics from saving Ginny Weasley to Voldemort’s inability to defeat rock ‘n’ roll. A portion of each ticket will benefit the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit that encourages humanitarian activism. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets $20. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Vim & Vigor with Kellyn Marie Goler
Vim & Vigor, a pop-folk band based in DC, produces unique songs that resonate with melodic sweetness. Their band name translates to “enormous vitality and energy,” and their music and performances live up to that promise. Kellyn Marie Goler, an independent singer-songwriter also based locally, creates acoustic folk-pop that will pair perfectly with Vim & Vigor’s performance. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $10. DC9 Nightclub: 1940 9th St. NW, DC; www.dc9.club

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 14

80s Mayhem Holiday Extravaganza Dance Party
FYM Productions will bring groovy 80s remixes to the 10th annual Holiday Extravaganza Dance Party. Their group consists of DJ Steve EP, DJ Missguided and Killa K. These experts are well-versed in mixing quality music. DJ Steve has been in the business for more than 25 years and DJ Missguided is a regular at Black Cat’s exceedingly popular events. Their group was founded in 2001, and they continue to pursue their mission of promoting good times. Dance party kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets $12. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

Anuel AA
As part of the Emmanuel World Tour, Anuel AA is visiting Eagle Bank Arena to showcase his talent as a rapper and singer. He was the recipient of the 2019 Billboard Latin Music Award and is well-known as a pioneer of the Latin trap movement. His songs feature unrelentingly honest lyrics and moving beats that will shine as the artist shares his reggaeton and trap blends. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $39. Eagle Bank Arena: 4500 Patriot Cir. Fairfax, VA; www.eaglebankarena.com

Best of 2010s Flashback Showcase by 7DrumCity
The 2010s featured trends like YOLO and unforgettable music like Train’s “Hey Soul Sister” and Young Money’s “Bedrock.” As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time to honor the music this decade had to offer. 7DrumCity’s Best of 2010’s Flashback Showcase will feature nine bands time traveling through the top hits of the past 10 years. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $13-$15. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Lomelda with Long Beard and The Goodbye Party
Texas songwriter Hannah Reed, a.k.a. Lomelda, says her stage name is a made-up word meaning “echo of the stars,” and her performances maintain this drifting vibe. She is a strong stage presence, though, and her song “Interstate Vision” is full of original sounds that demand audience attention. In contrast, Long Beard’s music explores the definition of home while incorporating impressive melodies. The Goodbye Party, another solo stage presence, started with bedroom recordings and eventually upgraded to mostly self-recorded album Silver Blues. Show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets $12. Comet Ping Pong: 5037 Connecticut Ave. NW, DC; www.cometpingpong.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 15

Amy Guess
Amy Guess finds her musical inspiration from bands like Evanescence and Portishead while incorporating industrial sounds and emotive energy. Guess is currently preparing for the release of her sophomore EP that details her experience as a music presence, and she continues to unapologetically create bold content. She feels confident that her music career is just getting started, so join her journey at this upcoming event. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Tickets $10. Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House: 2475 18th St. NW, DC; www.songbyrddc.com

Andrea Bocelli
Andrea Bocelli, the world’s most beloved tenor, captivates audiences once again during his 2019 tour. Bocelli has paired with pop icons like Ed Sheeran and Celine Dion to produce stunning duets, and he has been in the international spotlight for more than two decades. His career barrels on as he travels across America to share his impressive vocals once more. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $83. Capital One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

Horton’s Holiday Hayride
The Reverend Horton Heat reinvents country twang by infusing his music with punk rock vibes. This hybrid genre – psychobilly – is the Reverend’s specialty, and his band is picking up momentum as they begin their holiday shows and prepare for their upcoming 2020 tour. The Reverend will be joined onstage by the Voodoo Glow Skulls, an American ska-punk band, and The 5.6.7.8.’s, a Japanese rock trio. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30. Black Cat: 1811 14th St. NW, DC; www.blackcatdc.com

MONDAY, DECEMBER 16

Hot 99.5’s Jingle Ball
This year’s Jingle Ball will feature headliners like Halsey, Khalid and Charlie Puth. Halsey paired with South Korean boy band BTS this year to produce “Boy with Luv,” and Khalid recently wrapped up his Free Spirit World Tour. Niall Horan will also grace the stage along with French Montana, Lewis Capaldi and Why Don’t We. The lineup for this Jingle Ball is packed, so don’t miss this opportunity to see multiple music icons rock the stage in a single night. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25. Capitol One Arena: 601 F St. NW, DC; www.capitalonearena.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 17 – THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19

The Hip Hop Nutcracker
The Nutcracker meets the modern world in this reinvention of a holiday classic. The Hip Hop Nutcracker is set in New York where Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince embark on a thrilling adventure through the city. The performance features Tchaikovsky’s original score while incorporating updated hip-hop choreography and a DJ. Kurtis Blow, described by Strathmore as “one of hip-hop’s founding fathers,” will open the show and prepare the audience for a remixed version of a Christmastime favorite. Shows at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $33. The Music Center at Strathmore: 5301 Tuckerman Ln. North Bethesda, MD; www.strathmore.org

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 19

CeeLo Green Holiday Hits Tour
CeeLo Green, a five-time Grammy Award winner, returns to the stage for his Holiday Hits Tour. He initially released his Christmas album CeeLo’s Magic Moment in 2012, and the album was nominated for a Grammy in 2014. Green is also well-known for his four seasons as a coach on The Voice, and his wildly popular song “Forget You” was nominated for five Grammy awards and won Best Urban/Alternative Performance. Green’s tour will showcase his well-rounded talent as he continues to push his career. Doors at 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $45. Howard Theatre: 620 T St. NW, DC; www.thehowardtheatre.com

The Slackers with Mephiskapheles
The Slackers have been sharing their ska-, reggae- and soul-inspired music with audiences for more than 28 years. Since the NYC band’s beginnings, they have released 15 albums and were referred to as “the sound of New York” by The New York Times. Ska band Mephiskapheles will open. Concert at 7 p.m. Tickets $20. U Street Music Hall: 1115 U St. NW, DC; www.ustreetmusichall.com

Turnover with Men I Trust and Renata Zeiguer
Turnover, an American rock band from Virginia Beach, boasts four albums, two EPs and a handful of singles their fans are wild for. They will share the stage with Men I Trust, a Canadian indie pop group that self-released their latest album Oncle Jazz. While these bands have extremely different sounds, their music is complimentary without overpowering the other. Renata Zeiguer will open for the Turnover and Men I Trust, and she recently released her newest album Faraway Business. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. 9:30 Club: 815 V St. NW, DC; www.930.com

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20

The Captivators
The Captivators describe their genre as third-wave ska, and have proven themselves worthy members of the DC ska scene through electrifying shows and captivating tunes. The six band members pride themselves on providing soulful and danceable music. An important aspect of their concert is the dance floor, so you’ll definitely want to groove to their irresistible beats as they blow through their energetic lineup. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets $12. Rock & Roll Hotel: 1353 H St. NE, DC; www.rockandrollhoteldc.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 21

FeelFree with The Elegant Plums
Alexandria-based FeelFree’s Define The Free won Best Reggae Album of 2018 at the Wammie Awards, and members of The Elegant Plums hail from a variety of music backgrounds and use their diversity to provide unique jams. Everything from reggae to bluegrass to rock will make it onstage at this show. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $15. Gypsy Sally’s: 3401 K St. NW, DC; www.gypsysallys.com

LITZ + Radii
LITZ blends funk, go-go and electronica vibes with the intent to distract their audiences from everyday stresses and provide an unforgettable concert experience. The band has been hard at work on their newest album, and they plan on sharing their 16 new songs in four separate EPs, one of which will be released at this show. Radii plays a mix of rock, funk and alternative music, and they perform remix covers of your favorite classic tunes. Doors at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $12. Pearl Street Warehouse: 33 Pearl St. SW, DC; www.pearlstreetwarehouse.com

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 28

Hackensaw Boys with Yarn
For 17 years, the Hackensaw Boys have delivered their unique version of American roots music to fans that are hungry to hear more. Their band promotes a “the more, the merrier” attitude while sometimes fostering up to 20 members. Yarn, a folk band with rock ‘n’ roll influences, uses their music as an outlet for storytelling. Their lyrics are meaningful and reflect experiences from all walks of life. Each band brings a distinct personality to the stage, and audiences can expect a night of toe-tapping songs. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $20. Union Stage: 740 Water St. SW, DC; www.unionstage.com

Throwback Bash featuring Almost Queen
Almost Queen strives to create experiences as similar as possible to Queen’s concerts. This four-part tribute band dresses in realistic costuming and creates an energetic concert that emulates the legends themselves. Audience members will honor classics with the help of Almost Queen’s dedication to throwback experiences. Doors at 7 p.m. Tickets $25. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 29

The Roots
Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) and Black Thought (Tariq Luqmaan Trotter) of The Roots originally performed together on street corners while attending Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. They are now well known in the hip-hop industry and have been considered one of the greatest living bands by Rolling Stone. The Roots will share their iconic music with audiences on one of their free nights away from serving as house band for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Concert at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $49. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; www.kennedy-center.org

MONDAY, DECEMBER 30

The White Panda
This EDM duo started with two college guys looking to procrastinate their homework. Eventually their remixes, made in lieu of doing school assignments, topped the Internet radio charts in 2009. Entertainment Weekly named The White Panda “a veritable party-mashup machine,” so prepare for a wild time at their high-energy performance featuring loads of thrilling special effects. Concert at 9 p.m. Tickets $30. Fillmore Silver Spring: 8656 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring, MD; www.fillmoresilverspring.com

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31

Moonshine Society’s NYE Speakeasy Party
Moonshine Society combined talents in 2009, and their inspiring blues and old-school music is a testament to their success. Band members were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame for their work with harmonica player Charlie Sayles, and Moonshine Society was listed in top four fan favorites in DC two years in a row. Join this on-the-rise band as they take over the Hamilton Loft Bar to ring in the new year. Doors at 9:30 p.m. Tickets $35. The Hamilton LIVE: 600 14th St. NW, DC; http://live.thehamiltondc.com