While helping to promote dance events in North America and Europe, Donna “Donnaray Roc” Ray observed the rapturous response to Jamaica’s dancehall culture. But something was missing — an African presence.
Roc, born in Montego Bay but a longtime New York City resident, wanted to change that. Last September, she launched the Black Star Renaissance, an outreach initiative aimed at building ties with the Caribbean and Africa.
The company’s biggest project to date is Akwaaba Grand Experience, a series of week-long events in Accra, capital of Ghana. Its summer leg started August 9 and is scheduled to close August 16.
Similar conferences — endorsed by the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry of the Republic of Ghana — are scheduled for November and December. They offer visitors an opportunity to develop commercial, cultural and sporting ties with the West African country.
Roc, who is based in Ghana, considers there the bridge between Africa and its Diaspora, especially Jamaica.
“There’s nowhere in this world that’s like Jamaica like Ghana, regarding its roots and heritage linkage. Bridging the gap is far overdue. The Ghana and Jamaica linkage is like a mother who left home and (is) yet to return,” Roc reasoned. “Considering the two resourceful treasures, indigenous similarities, and its binding identity while on the renaissance journey, I discovered that if Jamaicans knew who they really are, they would do everything to visit Mother Africa.”
She first visited Ghana eight years ago on a “personal renaissance mission”. Roc admits there was initial culture shock but follow-up visits encouraged her to seek dialogue with government officials about establishing an African-Caribbean hub with strong financial promise.
The winter editions of Akwaaba Grand Experience are expected to have a Caribbean flavour, with Jamaican dance groups with whom Roc worked in the past, possible attendees. A delegation from the Jamaican community in Atlanta are also potential participants.
Jamaica and Ghana have a cultural history. Rita Marley lived in Accra for many years; she operated a recording studio there and was involved in several community projects.
In recent years, Ghanaian reggae has taken off internationally through acts like Stonebwoy who has collaborated with Sean Paul and Tarrus Riley.
A professional choreographer, Roc worked with a number of dancers in New York and Europe including Bogle, Ding Dong, Keva and Overmarz. She felt an urge to visit Ghana because of her “Rastafarian family” and Ghanaian friends.
Roc hopes Black Star Renaissance's debut venture will be even more successful than her groundbreaking dance events.
“The mission is to create authentic collaborations aimed at deepening relationships between Africa and the Caribbean Diaspora, with our collective of partnership-driven valued entities bringing forth the premiere culture exchange renaissance,” she said.