An Invitation to Return: “Gomela” at Ashé Powerhouse Theater


I first encountered the mesmerizing work of poet Sunni Patterson last year at a Junebug Productions event, Homecoming Project Congo Square—a participatory storytelling performance series based in New Orleans in which Patterson was one of several featured artists—and her seemingly improvised spoken-word performance was like none other I had experienced. Since then I have looked forward to more chances to witness what can only be described as supreme mastery of the written and performed word.

Still, Junebug’s latest production Gomela/to return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue, which was written by Patterson and directed by Stephanie McKee, surpassed my expectations, having an impact that only comes when art is elevated to its highest calling: transforming those who encounter it and (re)directing us on a path toward justice.

Within 55 minutes, Gomela stretches hundreds of years and thousands of miles across ocean and land, connecting generations and unearthing deep cultural roots between Africa, Haiti, and New Orleans. The words of Patterson’s epic poem, spanning the life of the performance, contemporize manifestations and traumas of slavery through interpretations of police violence and the evolution of Jim Crow into mass incarceration; they also declare honor and power for black people with lines like “wild women are not to be tamed, only admired,” and “black boy proud of the black man he has become.”

Read the full article at PELICAN BOMB

Gambit Weekly reviews GOMELA

Review: Gomela/to Return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue

By Mary Pickard

Gomela/to Return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue, presented by Junebug Productions is one of the most innovative performances of the season, combining spoken word, movement, dance, photography and videography. Currently running at Ashe Power House, Gomela is a mesmerizing tapestry of creative forces that conveys the breadth of African-American history while emphasizing the resilience of black people.

Director Stephanie McKee, producer Kiyoko McCrae and poet Sunni Patterson studied under John O’Neal and Doris Derby, co-founders of Free Southern Theater, which became a major influence on the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s. Junebug Productions carries on Free Southern Theater’s mission to use the arts in support of civil rights, and Gomela touches on slavery, racial profiling, poverty, lack of opportunity, Hurricane Katrina and negative societal messages relating to the black community. 

The stark, contemporary setting of Ashe Power House allows the audience to become completely engrossed in the action. Patterson appears out of the darkness, dressed in golden garments, personifying an Orisha, a spirit in the Yoruba religion of southwestern Nigeria who reflects a godlike being. Startling costumes designed by Ja’nese Brooks-Galathe and Dana Leon Lima of Aya Designs suggest a traditional Orisha manifesting in ordinary people. 

With little linear plot, performers artistically express how it feels to be black in America. Photographs and images projected on floor-to-ceiling scrims allow for broader interpretations of Patterson’s words as Jawara Simon beats traditional West African rhythms on a djembe. A haunting video showing Sandra Bland’s 2015 arrest in Texas for failing to signal a lane change elicits feelings of despair. She died in jail three days later. Evocative choreography by Jeremy Guyton, Kai Knight and Kesha McKey employs modern, African and second-line dance movements, and it is emotional, frightening and powerful. In one scene, Guyton franticly evades police....

Read the full article at Gambit Weekly

American Theater Magazine, Know a Theatre: Junebug Productions of New Orleans


"...Gomela/to return: Movement of Our Mother Tongue, which has been in development for the past two years, will premiere in January 2017 and will begin touring in April 2017. The production will feature seven artists and the work of four designers. “Gomela,” a Bantu word, means “to go back to/to return.” Featuring award-winning poet Sunni Patterson, Gomela will highlight the vibrant and percussive movements and stories that breathe life into ancient forms (African dance and drumming) and new artistic expression (spoken word, hip-hop, jazz) that illuminate the connection between Africa, Haiti, and New Orleans.

Photo by Melisa Cardona

Photo by Melisa Cardona

At its core, the show focuses on gentrification, New Orleanians returning after Katrina, Black Lives Matter, and the beauty and resilience of black people, past and present. Similar to the Homecoming Project, the show addresses the threat of New Orleans culture, institutions, and general way of life going by the wayside in the name of progress, development, and rebuilding. Sunni Patterson, the lead artist in the project, was born and raised in New Orleans but was forced to move after Katrina due to rising costs. Her story is representative of the experience of so many New Orleanians. This piece aims to raise the issue of racial inequity in rebuilding, development, and gentrification as New Orleans becomes more and more white and affluent..."

Read the full article at American Theater Magazine