We first met Chris in 2018 in Mexico City. At the time, urban Afro dances were gaining mainstream popularity in the Americas and Chris had a vision to introduce these dances to Mexico. In 2017, Chris started Jamefrica with the mission of sharing the dance cultures of Jamaica and Africa with Mexico.
Since its inception, Jamefrica has grown leaps and bounds and has played a key role in Afro Dance becoming a staple in the urban dance scene of CDMX (Mexico City). Jamefrica has hosted workshops, bringing Afro instructions from Latin America, Europe and USA to train and educate his students in Afro dance.
We connected with Chris to talk about the role Jamefrica has played with growing Urban Afro Dance in Mexico.
1. AFROCONEX: Chris, thank you for our most recent collaboration. For those who aren’t familiar with you and Jamefrica, can you introduce yourself to the audience, and tell us about Jamefrica?
CHRIS MURDAH: Jamefrica, is a compound word consisting of Jamaica, Mexico and Africa. We are more than a group or a crew. Actually, Jamefrica has become a platform that helps to spread Afro genres to reach more people, including those who are not familiar with dance. We like to study and explore the experience of different Afro dance styles, such as: Afrohouse, Coupé Decalé, Ndombolo, Afrofusion, and Dancehall from Jamaica (we know that there is no direct relationship with Africa, but the similarity is obvious as it is an Afro-Caribbean genre) Of course always respecting the culture, the technique and the corresponding music.
2. AFROCONEX: Why did you start Jamefirca?
CHRIS MURDAH: At first I was inspired by Janca Jelinkova and Joseph Go, who were my first teachers of Afrohouse and Kuduro. They came to Mexico under the initiative of Paloma Brova to share these dance styles. I grew an admiration and appreciation for the respect they had for the dance. As time passed (2014 - 2017), these teachers created an impulse in me to also share these dance styles. This required preparation, and a level of respect for each dance. Soon after I met Samuel Koffi, a teacher from Togo who lives in Mexico. He introduced me to Coupé Décale. Years before Kofi and Janca, I was dedicated to training in Dancehall. So I had exposure and dedication to all these styles. It was later that some colleagues in dance gave me more ideas to help solidify the project and I started it in July 2017.
3. AFROCONEX: When you started Jamefrica, what was the reception in CDMX to Afro dance and dancehall dance?
CHRIS MURDAH: At the beginning of the project, and even today when we teach outdoors, the music is the first thing that catches people's attention. This facilitates and generates a good connection, and creates interest towards the project. On the other hand, the first time we offered classes in dance studios (at that time only Afrohouse), it was not attractive to the public at all. It took about a year and a half for the public to grow interested.
4. AFROCONEX: When most Americans think of Mexico, things relating to Black Culture —like Afro Dance and music, doesn’t come to mind. How do you feel about your role in creating awareness in Mexico City of Afro Culture?
CHRIS MURDAH: It is a very big responsibility, especially because we try to raise awareness about the true roots of the dances. From their history to their socio-political sense, giving deeper meaning beyond just executing them for fashion.
6. AFROCONEX: You are a student and teacher in many Afro Dance styles: Coupe De Cale, AfroHouse, and Naija dances. Do you have a favorite style?
CHRIS MURDAH: It's a question that I ask myself often… Each style has its vibe and difficulty. The energy and sincerity that Coupe Decale entails catches me a lot, but the infinity of possibilities that Afrohouse has with its footwork, blows my mind! And since the beginning of 2020 I have been studying Ndombolo and I think it is one of the vibes that captivates me the most!
7. AFROCONEX: What is it about Afro Dances, that draw you to them?
CHRIS MURDAH: I like that they are not made to impress, they carry a lot of sincerity in their execution. They are movements that imitate actions in everyday life and being able to take them to the next level pleases me a lot. I always try to do it (the dances) in a different way and without pretense.
8. AFROCONEX: We know you have yet to travel to Africa, which African Country would you like to visit and why?
CHRIS MURDAH: In short, being able to dance Coupe Decale in the streets of Côte d'Ivoire is what attracts me the most, but I can't help but imagine being able to dance Ndombolo with a live Seben band. The experience of going to a South African party and experiencing the South African vibe is something you couldn't pass up.
9. AFROCONEX: One thing we appreciate about you is your quest to understand deeper the culture of the dances. Why do you think it’s important to educate your students on the deeper context of the dances?
CHRIS MURDAH: Understanding and executing these dances from their social or historical sense greatly changes the way in which one performs them. It generates a deeper impact on the viewer, always doing it from sincerity or from life experiences, thus, the dance makes more sense.
10. AFROCONEX: You have brought many dancers to Mexico, what was one of the most memorable workshops you have hosted and why?
CHRIS MURDAH: Each event and visit by Afro-descendant and European teachers have left a mark on our process. What has given us the most growth is having direct talks with Telminho Piluka (from Angola) and Brotha E (from Congo). Also knowing the perspective and contribution to these dances by Vins Crespo (French dancer) somehow generated a movement with these dances. Joseph Go was one of our first teachers, who supported us and inspired us a lot to never stop preparing, as well as Janca Jelinkova.
11. AFROCONEX: Do you have any plans to travel throughout Latin America and share in the exchange of dance? Which country is at the top of your list?
CHRIS MURDAH: There are many countries in our continent to which I would like to visit and share, but above all to know their perspective on these styles. In short, we have a closer and more direct relationship with friends and colleagues from Colombia, who have already visited us at our 2019 Ji Masun event. The way in which dancers from Panama and the Dominican Republic have adopted Afro dances and their proposals, also attracts me a lot. Chile and Argentina also have great exponents of Afrohouse and Ndombolo. Without a doubt, Latin America is on the map, and is giving strength to these dances!
12. AFROCONEX: The pandemic has impacted how we work. How have you changed your approach to your work during the Covid pandemic?
CHRIS MURDAH: The focus has not changed at all. In the end we adapted to online work, giving regular classes and even benefited by taking classes with teachers from South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria, as well as different parts of Europe. With this new modality we were able to help an NGO in Senegal that supports different parts of the continent by raising funds for this institution.
13. AFROCONEX: This year mark’s Jamefrica’s 4th anniversary. Can you share with us some of things you have learned during this 4 year journey? How have you changed over that time? and what were some of the challenges you had to overcome?
CHRIS MURDAH: I have experienced growth, beyond the professional, during this time, which has generated more impact on the human side. I stopped looking for the recognition of colleagues or the public and concentrated on personal development and constant improvement in my dance and class methodology. As a result I have seen a growth in the number of people interested in the project unlike in previous years. Empathy with our environment is what has reinforced our path.
There have been several and there will always be challenges. But we have fought a lot against comments that we are not Afro-descendants and we disrespect the dances because we are white dancing dances of black culture; cultural appropriation. For this reason, different talks have been held on these topics, and our work has talked about the seriousness, commitment and respect that we give to each dance and culture.
14. AFROCONEX: What do you see as the future for Jamefrica and where can people who visit CDMX go to experience Afro dance in CDMX?
CHRIS MURDAH: In general, reaching more people and generating awareness about these dances is what will always be at the top of the list for the future of the project. We would love to give a voice and more visibility to the Afro-Mexican communities in our country. To be able to attend different events on Afro dances in other parts of the world and for Jamefrica to generate direct links with schools such as Dance With a Purpose in Ghana or with artists with Serge Beynaud from Ivory Coast. It all sounds far away, but not impossible and we are going to achieve it.
Jamefrica's classes are in different parts of the city, some parks such as: Jardín Pushkin, Parque Mexico, or dance studios in the area. As well as in the Afro CDMX Dance Collective (of which we are members) on traditional African dances in Mexico.
15. AFROCONEX: Who are some of the dancers you admire and why?
CHRIS MURDAH: I'm a follower and a big fan of:
a) Afor Baracuda (@aforbarcuda237)
A Coupe Decale dancer from Senegal. I am blown away by his acrobatics and irreverence in his dance.
b) Desisa Mzungu (@denisamzungu) from Czech Republic. It's an inspiration the way she masters Afrohuse, Coupe Decale and Ndombolo.
c) Dafrogang's project and the contributions he has made to NGOs in Africa is to be admired.
d) Oulouy (@enfantdesbois) (Lives in Barcelona) Simply the sincerity that he reflects in his dance and his Groove inspires me a lot.
e) Toopiti (@tooopitidanca) She was one of the first teachers we were able to bring to Mexico. She gave us a borader overview of Coupe Decale. I lover her energy and humanism as dancer and artist.
f) Blaakow (@blaakow_official)
16. AFROCONEX: What are your 5 favorite songs right now?
Godly by Omah Lay
Techno Malewa Mechanic by Werrason
Sobe by Leo Beatz
Injure Me by Teni
Zai Kolo by Serge Beynaoud
We asked Chris to share some photos of things that represent Afro dance in CDMX. Below are his submissions:
From left to right:
a) Teotihuacán archeological site. Here we filmed a dance video with @tooopitidanca and @vinscrespo
b) Zócalo: CDMX. one of the places often used to record videos
c) Jardin Pushkin. Another place we use for videos and dance meetups.
d) The gazebo in Alameda Central. Here we often meet to have outdoor classes and to dance.
e) Chapultepec park. Here we often meet to dance and record videos.
f) Monumento a la Revolucion. This is place where many videos are recorded.
g) Bellas Arte, next to Alameda Central. It's a meet up point for dancers
h) Explanada del Parque Mexico. Another meet up place for dancers.
i) The Angel on Reforma. Another famous spot in the city that is often used for videos