Amma D. McKen has been a lifelong member of a vibrant community who describe themselves as Yoruba traditionalists or Lukumi, practicing a way of life and religion of West Africa. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, McKen has sung traditional sacred Yoruba music since she was 14 and is recognized as a Priestess of Yemonja. The Yoruba refer to God as Olodumare, as well as deities known as Orisas. Orisa worship was spread to the new world through the slave trade and, in order to preserve their religious traditions against repression, the African slaves matched the Orisas to Catholic saints. McKen holds several roles and titles in Yoruba, including the title of Akpon, a lead singer and officiator for the drumming and dancing celebrations. Akpon is a title held by very few people and is critical to keeping the tradition in place. McKen became the first African American female Akpon to produce a musical recording of the traditional songs, titled Alaako Oso: Owner of the Songs is Eloquent. Sought after to lead Bembes (dancing celebrations) throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean, McKen preserves the traditional songs of Yoruba and helps participants connect with the history and spiritual context of the tradition. McKen is the director and co-founder of Omiyesa, a cultural music group located in New York, where she offers a wide range of apprenticeships, workshops, and lecture-demonstrations in Afro-Cuban and Orisa songs, dance, and music. In 1998, she collaborated with the African American Dance Ensemble, directed by Chuck Davis, and the Carolina Theater to stage the well-received production Cultural Journey Back to the Roots.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
In these segments taken from an audio interview, Amma McKen describes the Yoruba tradition and Orisha music.