| Asadata Dafora was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, the great-grandson of a
former slave who returned from Nova Scotia to his homeland. His birth name
is uncertain but was probably Austin Asadata Dafora Horton. Dafora
attended Wesleyan High School in Freetown and moved to Europe in 1910. His
life in Europe is not well documented, but he is believed to have studied
opera in Germany and Italy from 1910 through 1912. Dafora is also reported
to have been a member of the British Army during World War I.
In 1929, Dafora arrived in New York intending to pursue a career in
opera. He began working with a group of African men who frequented the
National African Union, a social club. From these initial efforts he
formed Shogola Oloba, an African troupe of performers. His troupe
performed scenes from Zoonga, a dance opera of his composition, at
the Communist Party Bazaar at Madison Square Garden in New York City in
1933. The following year Dafora premiered the dance opera "Kykunkor"
(Witch Woman) at the Little Theater in New York City. A novelty in the
United States because of its African theme, "Kykunkor" told the story
of a bridegroom who had been cursed by a scorned lover. The performance
was a critical success, and by 1935 the group had become the African Dance
Troupe of the Federal Theatre Project. It was featured in Orson Welles'
production of MACBETH.
In 1938, Shogola Oloba performed "Zunguru," a work in the style of
"Kykunkor." It was revived in 1940 and again in 1958 with the
participation of Esther Rolle (best known for her portrayal of Florida
Evans on the 1970s television sitcom GOOD TIMES).
In 1960, Dafora returned to Freetown and passed directorship of his
troupe to Rolle. The following year he once again returned to the United
States, where he died in Harlem Hospital in 1965.
-- Marcia Ethel Heard