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Down to the river to pray

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Every year at about this time, the city of Osogbo in Nigeria's Osun state more than doubles in size as a half-million worshipers and tourists gather for the Osun Festival. They bathe in the river Osun, dance in the Sacred Groves, listen to the talking dundun drums.

Osun is the orisa (goddess) of fertility, abundant life and generous love. She inhabits the river and the Sacred Groves. Her worshipers believe the flow of Osun can return barren women to fecundity, can restore the sick to health and bring plenty to the poor.

No one mistakes the littered waters of the Chattahoochee for a holy flow or the 14th Street Playhouse for a Sacred Grove, but this Saturday we'll have a chance to observe Osun's rituals when Manga African Dance and Adebisi Adeleke present Osun: Someone with Diamond Combs.

The performance is many things: communal worship for the faithful, narrative anthropology for the culturally curious, compelling participatory theater for dance and music lovers. Presided over by Chief Bolu Fatunmise of Osogbo, it is the story of a village celebrating the Osun festival, a slightly fanciful version of what will be going on more or less simultaneously in Osogbo.

A fourth-generation master of the dundun, Atlanta's Adebisi Adeleke will keep the beat and tell the story on the drum. Yoruban, a tonal language, really can be approximated on the "talking drum," though it takes a clever ear to follow it. For the rest of us, Atlanta poet Felton Eaddy will narrate.

Joining director Ramatu Afegbua-Sabbatt and Manga's dancers for the energetic and festive ritual and artistic movement are Oyebimpe Ogundipe and Lekan Ogunkoya, both dancers from Osogbo. Everyone will be invited to join in a communal dance, so wear white, yellow, orange and gold to honor Osun.


Manga African Dance and Adebisi Adeleke present Osun: Someone with Diamond Combs at the 14th Street Playhouse, 173 14th St. Sat., Aug. 9, at 2 and 7:30 p.m. $15 in advance, $18 at the door. 404-752-6125.

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