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Tobi Onabolu and A Joyful Project explore dance as a language for joy in film 'Dear Black Child'

Filmmaker and long-time friend of Yellow Tobi Onabolu is a man of many talents - a creative director, spoken word artist, and cultural strategist, focused on pan-African cultural advocacy. Tobi's 'Ikigai' (motivating force) is, "to support the empowerment of Black people globally, connecting the dots through inter-continental cultural collaboration. Phase one is through healing." He creates works which centre the Black (human) experience in the process of healing. He depicts the process of wellness, self-love, and self-care, which serve as healing tools for his audiences. Exploring the human body as both subject and object, Tobi focuses on movement and internal and external energy flows, capturing the tangible manifestation of healing. This particular piece 'Dear Black Child' is created by A Joyful Project - a UK-wide movement sparked by Rooted by Design dedicated to ensuring black people have more spaces for joy, connection and social imagination. In collaboration with Onabolu, A Joyful Project have created a visual narrative intended to serve as a legacy of Rooted’s work, sparking the movement, #BlackJoyIsOurs.

Dear Black Child is a love letter to the inner child of Black people, on the practice of returning to joy. Shot in Hackney Wick, London, the film tells a fantasy story of a Black child on a quest for joy, who encounters a mysterious spirit, and a high priestess with her merrymakers, in an enchanted forest. Dear Black Child captures some of the many ways Black people can develop practices to reconnect with joy. Exploring themes including mindfulness, alchemy, and African spirituality, the piece is expressed through movement and dance.

“As Black people, we have so many different ways of expressing and defining “Black joy”, so in Dear Black Child, I wanted to emphasise the practise of returning to that state of joy" says filmmaker Tobi Onabolu.

Featuring an original score - composed by 4Stringsz, whose work has seen him collaborate with the likes of 21 Savage, NSG, Etta Bond, Tom Misch, and many more - the film debuts a totally unique reimagination of the well-known gospel hymn, “Joyful Joyful”. With a script containing ungendered roles, UK Voguing and Ballroom icon, Ayo Babatope, stars as the film’s protagonist, “The Seeker”, who incorporates a melange of contemporary, ballet, voguing, and other dance techniques. Telling this story through movement was an intuitive decision for filmmaker Onabolu "as it allowed us to use dance as a dynamic and expressive language for depicting the journey of returning to joy.” Babatope is joined by seasoned Urdang Academy graduate and multidisciplinary artist, Kane Horn, who features as the spirit of “Wanderlust”, as the two engage in ethereal and intimate dance sequences, choreographed by Movement Director, Webster. The film was commissioned by Rooted by Design, a Social Design and Change Studio, centering the experiences, needs and futures of UK Black communities. The organisation launched “A Joyful Project” in 2021, in response to the impact of Covid-19 on Black communities. Over six months, Rooted worked with Black communities across the UK to deepen our collective understanding about the opportunities, value and importance of Joy. For Rooted, the pandemic was a signal to centre joy, as a way to nourish, strengthen and spark reimaginings of the future. More from Tobi Onabolu Article by Aisha Ayoade


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