OUAGA-Tea-Room — a review, by Sean Edward Lewis 12/02/2023
Cushioned wooden benches line the walls. Appropriated industrial-blue-barrels, chopped at the upper rim, and capped, with brightly-painted-yellow wood tops as tables. Exposed white piping as roof supports. Thick clear vinyl, that rolls up on hot days, above reinforced crates as walls. A curtained doorway and two heat blowers, raised high in opposite corners for the winter months.
This hand-built-island floats out upon Harlem’s extra-wide sidewalk, at the NW-corner of 134th and Adam Clayton Powell, in a spot—so says the plaque outside—where Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington made music, once upon a time…
…today the music is served as Tea, African-Style, and an incidental score made of street sounds and voices of the people walking by. The lyrics—I imagine—are, be yourself, you are at home. Steam rises from the deep-brownish-amber-kettle, and an equally orange-amber brew flows from glass to pot, until the ceremony of serving is finally ready.
At the OUAGA-Tea-Room time changes its pace. There is no rushing under the string of blue lights, circling the cozy patio.
And when you get your foam-topped, oh-so-slightly-brown-sugar-sweetened glass, “take your time. “This tea is for sippin. This tea is for you to relax and be you,” say’s Abdel Kader Ouedraogo, owner of Ouaga. “You are welcome. All are welcome.” And the Tea is always free.
One Love is the tea room’s theme, and Bob or Peter or Blondy could be heard singing from a tiny blue-tooth speaker in the corner, below the conversations in More’, or French, or Spanish, or even English. The Ouaga-Tea-Room sits in the heart of Harlem’s West African and Caribbean diaspora. You might see a tray of glasses being carried across Clayton-Powell to the Shrine NYC, or to Luke’s (Burkinabae owned and operated) barber shop across the way, or to friends on the corner saying “where’s mine?” The Ouaga-Tea-Room answers in the affirmative to these calls, yours is here, right here. I even saw the tray go into the Yemin brother at the corner deli, and I imagine—sipping my own portion—while viewing this action through the vinyl windows—if charted from above, what the lines of connection this tea service would make?
Each round is brewed to boil three times, then strained three times, and on the last straining sweetened very slightly, leaving the strong taste of the tea on top. This technique creates foam from the high pours back and forth between glasses—foam that is then gently dripped into multi-sided, 2 and ½ inch-high tea cups—and sits on top of the now finished, and ready to serve delicacy. Yes, there is some theatre in the Tea Room at Ouaga to witness too.
“The Tea Room has no agenda.” says Abdel Kader. “This is a place for human beings to be human beings.” So sip, sit and settle, listen for the hum of the kettle, and make your way to Harlem’s Ouaga-Tea-Room. You are welcome (“all are welcome”) for one-love inspired Tea, African-Style—and it be—I promise, worth your while.
***If interested in visiting, inquire at email@example.com. The Oauga Tea Room is located at 2280 Adam Clayton Powell blvd. Open hours are between 4p and 9p, days per week varying***
‘NASARA’ … a Market/Mall musing from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso— written by Sean Edward Lewis— OCT. 15, 2023
My hometown is Newbury Park, in Southern California’s Ventura County.
Newbury Park has a very big ‘mall’ —
or ‘market’ (in Ouagadougou speak) —
of the type that would take over American shopping in the 70s.
These Mall-dinosaurs have been slain by the internet (and Walmart-Costco-beasts).
These are some of the thoughts flashing in my mind, sitting behind Sidiki Ouedraogo, my trusted mate and caretaker, on the back of his scooter, winding our way through Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on a shopping excursion for a hat.
I need a hat for my bald head.
I’m in Burkina by chance. Chance created by a combination of experimental-theatre-grant-monies, cold receptions, and cool offers.
I thought grant money would have theaters in NYC rolling out red carpets for my auteur, angry, middle-aged-white-man troupe?
With my expectations crushed, I went to Harlem.
Isn’t that what everyone does? Go to Harlem …
I’d visit the great Shrine-NYC.
They’d offered me a show back in the day, and not seeing it through always bothered me.
So when I got to The Shrine at 133rd and ACP, and even with the covid-n95 masks covering our faces (this meeting took place in March of 2021), Abdel Kader’s response was anything but icey.
(Abdel is the owner and founder, who hand built The Shrine in 2007).
In truth Abdels response was super cool … in a boiling-Burkina-cool kind of way.
In September of 2021 my theatre, Lilac Co., did a show at The Shrine in Harlem.
Abdel then invited me to travel with him (and his entourage) to Burkina Faso.
Maybe he thought…’this white boy needs therapy’? Burkina-Style.
I said yes, to his offer…of therapy?…and went.
It’s mid-October-2021, and I am riding on the back of Sidiki’s scooter, on the way to the Ouaga-Market—and I’m thinking, ‘what is this Market/Mall thing really about…?
[Sidiki grew up with Abdel Kader, and somewhere in our first hours landing in Ouagadougou, probably by Abdel’s urging, Sidiki and I became attached at the hip. Sidiki, I learned, is Abdel’s oldest and most trusted friend.]
…the Oaks Mall’, I muse inwardly, with one hand on the scooter, and the other on Sidiki’s shoulder, ‘lies 30 miles north, on the 101 Freeway, from downtown Los Angeles.
A boxy and massive leggos-albatros in a blacktopped field.’
The albatros’ construction took all of the summer and fall of 1976. Construction
I witnessed riding on the bus, going to and from school, or on my skateboard.
The Oaks Mall site famously—at least in my grade-school-circles—served as backdrop for the filming of the Six-Million-Dollar-Man’s TV show’s opening credit sequence.
During the sequence you’d hear warping-electronic-music—wah wah wah wah …
while Lee Majors lab-constructed, half-machine-frame, ran towards you on screen.
Malls were meant to be futuristic, cool, and powerful.
On the scooter behind Sidiki I feel more joyful than powerful going to find a hat for my bald-nasara-head. [nasara—means white foreigner in the local language of moré]
It is 100-degrees plus on this Sahel morning.
It does feel futuristic.
It feels like being on another planet.
‘Maybe I’m feeling right now the kind of joy Lee Majors felt running in front of The Oaks Mall in 76?’
On this planet of Ouagadougou, The Six Million Dollar Man wah-wah-wah music is replaced with calls of ‘nasara’ ‘nasara’ ‘nasara’, as Sidiki and I enter into the market’s domain.
Entry into ‘Mall-domain’—in contrast—is defined by football-field-sized-parking-lots, and symmetrically arranged cars, and Chili’s restaurants, and the like.
At Ouaga’s Market these pathways of entry are populated with scooter shops and coffee stands.
And people. Many, many people, and children, walking about.
And scooters, always scooters.
And amongst this buzz, if the ear is tuned, you can hear a steady chorus of calls,
rising and falling … ‘nasara’ ‘nasara’ ‘nasara’ …
Maybe it’s a whisper? Maybe it’s in my head? A head boiling now, but joyful.
So many beautiful Mommies and babies!…and so fantastically dressed.
My heart—a heart I didn’t know I had—seems to reach out of my body,
and stretch out to the blue Ouagadougou sky, in the shape of open hands in prayer.
Maybe Abdel’s therapy plan is working?
… “nasara nasara nasara” …
Abdel, and his entourage, for the most part, all now live in the Bronx.
All are Burkinabae, born and raised in Burkina Faso, and mostly from the Ville of Ouahigouya, located 181k north, towards Mali, from the Capital City.
Ouahigouya, is lovingly referred to as ‘our Babylon’, I am told.
Equally lovingly, whenever Bob Marley’s ‘Crazy Baldhead’ comes through Abdel’s dubbed-soaked speakers, he will sing in my ears ‘right outta town… we gotta chase those crazy baldheads right outta town’… This singing, directed at me, causes my nasara-domed-head to glow, and my heart to expand.
Why is that? No matter. It’s simply true.
We eventually arrived at the Ouaga-Market. Sidiki parks.
He pays the man who minds the scooter. And we enter.
[OMG] The market is beautiful.
I want to stare at everything and stop and look and pick things up.
But I don’t.
I walk discreetly—with Sidiki as guide—through the labyrinth,
with steady breath, and joyful heart, to get my needed baldhead cap.
‘nasara … nasara … nasara…’
‘MUSIC DON’T HAVE NO FRONTIER’ – in conversation with master musician & teacher, Yahaya Kabore— written by Sean Edward Lewis OCTOBER 4, 2023
“You see me?” “Yes I see you.” “You okay?” “Yes I’m Okay.” Drum lines, disguised as dialogue, and scored by a master—Burkina-Faso-born, West African Musician—Yahaya Kabore. We sat talking over coffee, in the home of Abdel Kader Ouedraogo (Founder of famed Harlem night spot Shrine NYC) in the Bronx, on a 80 plus-degrees, balmy-October-Tuesday, around noon-time.
“Music is communication” Yahaya exclaims— while giving me lessons … “are you okay” “yes i’m okay” “do you see me” “yes I see you”. We sit knee to knee, using our upper legs and laps as a drum kit…tikka tikka tappa tikka tappa tappa tikka tappa …come come come come… ka ka ka ka … Yahaya is a kind teacher. He shows only gentle encouragement and correction as I struggle in the most basic lesson-one-instructions: “No. Again. Like this.” But I feel I have had a real lesson. Maybe I can play the drum, with practice, someday. Such is the feeling one has when spending time with Yahaya Kabore.
In July of 2015, Yahaya Kabore found himself in a hotel suite in Sante Fe, New Mexico, on an all expenses paid invitation to the International Sante Fe Folk – Art Market (IFAM). Yahaya was selected from among thousands of submissions received every year by IFAM, from Africa, and around the globe. This prestigious selection would change his life, providing a window to a future in America, and New York City, where he has lived since 2017.
On the day of his departure for IFAM, traveling with 10 (x-large) overstuffed bags out of Ouagadougou International Airport (OUA), Yahaya was detained to security in Atlanta, Georgia (ATL) International, and questioned in a side room. They found traditional African instruments and some socks and underwear, I imagine. A Kora, a N’goni, a Kamele, drums—17 in total—all hand-made in Burkina, by Yahaya, and all instruments he has mastered. On the first day at IFAM Yahaya sold over 27000 USD in instrumentation, and by the end of the second day, all was gone.
“When I was 8 years old Dami Dabere, a teacher/musician, came to my school in Ouagadougou, offering classes for us in traditional African Instrumentation. These classes,” Yahaya explains, “were one day a week on Thursday, for an hour in the afternoon.” Apparently Mr. Dabere saw Yahaya’s love of playing and devotion to practicing, and, “within weeks,” says Yahaya, “he invited me for private study on Sundays to his home studio.”
“These sessions,” he recalls, “sometimes lasted many many hours.” Yahaya spent 12 years in apprenticeship with Dami.
At the age of twenty, Yahaya would begin work at the Traditional African Instruments Museum of Burkina Faso, with locations in Ouagadougou, and Bobo-Dioulasso. Becoming both master player and teacher, he would perform, teach musical history, lecture at schools, and lead demonstrations to thousands of Museum-goers from all over the world visiting Burkina. “Never a day-off,” he says. Yahaya stayed working at the museum for 15 years, leaving only for tours throughout the Sahel, in the numerous ensembles he has played with.
Born May 21, 1980 in Zanguétin (Sector 5), in Ouagadougou, Yahaya is now 43 years old. “I’m a kid” he says gleefully, revealing his birthdate. If the brilliant-artist-temperament, as the saying goes, is akin to that of a child, I can only agree.
Yahaya is number 19 of 27 children, by his father Saidou Kabore. Saidou did not like, at first, Yahaya going into the home of Dami to study. But his mother came to his aid, and the rest…well…Yahaya puts it best, when he says, “music don’t have no frontier.”
A SUNDAY CONVERSATION WITH BURKINA FASO BORN ANGE BAYALA IN HARLEM, written by Sean Edward Lewis OCTOBER 03, 2023
He wears his smile like a pair of prescription eyeglasses turned inside out. A smile that lets the world see more clearly. And If the world does need clearer vision, and most say it does, Ange Bayala’s smile, seen daily on the block in Harlem, certainly gives it some.
Smile as an energy clarifier – “cause if ‘you got bad energy’ says Ange ‘ I don’t want none.” Ange Bayala’s is a barber by profession—for seventeen years now, including seven in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso—at a cousin’s shop, and now nine at Luke’s spot in Harlem, on the east side of Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, between 133rd and 134th. “Working in the barbershop,” says Ange, “lets me learn about energy.” Seventeen-years-holding-the-shears, and counting.
Born in Ouagadougou, and raised Roman Catholic, Ange has three siblings, all living in Burkina Faso, “and doing well,” says Ange. And his oldest brother, Armand Bayala, also doing well, now lives and works in Brussels. Maybe the dreads he wears, whose tips touch past his shoulders, say Rasta? Or Maybe they say Roman-Catholic-Jah? No matter, but these questions, though unsaid, do cross through my mind, as Ange and I sit and talk within the covered patio at Ouaga Sports Bar which buoys out onto the sidewalk of 134th and A.C.P., in what has turned into a clear, blue skies, sixty-five degrees early fall day. We talk and gaze across the way towards Luke’s and The Shrine, in what is a hub of West African culture —a la Harlem— in New York City.
“People in Burkina need help”, says Ange. “And in Burkina if you got no money no one can help you.” But in Burkina we do everything together and there is power in that. But here in America,” says Ange, “everyone goes off by themself—and there is nothing nobody can do about that.” This statement causes pause inside me as I listen, and mixes into the soup of the Jah-Catholic-dreads, and sounds of the street, and the passing cars and battery bikes that flow by in a steady, though relatively calm, easy like Sunday morning stream.
“We want understanding. Everybody wants understanding. And lack of understanding causes bad energy.” It could be said that the vision-clarifying-smile Ange Bayala wears, seen and loved by all, is about giving others understanding, and giving others clarity, in a world riddled with confusion, AI-generated misinformation, and fake news, made all the more complex by the minute.
When I asked him, what funny situations can you tell me about being in America, he quips, “I haven’t had any ‘funny situations’. I learned that I must work hard and stay with ‘the clarity’, and stay with ‘the good energy.’ Whether that is on the block in front of Luke’s Barbershop, or at home on 133rd just around the corner, or in The Shrine next door taking in great music and seeing friends—Ange Bayala, you can be sure of it, is not giving out or taking in anything other than the good energy