Dressed in an array of kid-friendly primary colors, J’Miah Nabawi engaged an audience of about 40 people – nearly half of them children – with a soothing voice and animated facial expressions.
The audience spent a recent Saturday morning listening to these and other stories at the Miami-Dade main library in downtown Miami.
The Feb. 27 event was an interactive storytelling session performed by Nabawi, Neri Torres, founder of the Ile-Ife Afro-Cuban Dance Troup, and her colorful group of characters.
Nabawi, a professional storyteller, was playing the character of “Cotorra Cubana,” the Cuban Parrot whose job it was to inform them about the “Guije,” a Cuban mythical character that likes to hang out around water.
Actor Lunkner Bruno Jr. portrayed the mythical character – referred to by some as a “monster of medium size” – so realistically that two small children cried when he came too close.
In addition to cautioning children to stay away from the water, the story also informed the audience about the tropical area of Cuba, its land mass and some of the animals that inhabit the island.
In a colorful, multi-sensory show, complete with congas and an audience-involved conga-line, Torres and Nabawi entertained the group with lively, often over-the-top movements and sounds.
Nabawi, a youthful 60-year old, said his fondness for the storytelling craft dates back to his childhood experiences, when he listened to the jokes and harmless word play of beloved aunts and uncles.
Influenced by fictional characters such as Br’er Rabbit and real-life storytellers such as Bill Cosby, Nabawi told the South Florida Times that a meeting with best-selling author Linda Goss was pivotal to his now-full-time profession. The job takes him to schools, businesses and community organizations across the nation.
Nabawi, who also speaks Spanish, said his work is mostly based upon the African-inspired Anansesem, a combination of story, dance and drama that is still very much alive throughout the African Diaspora.
The award-winning storyteller is a member of the Southern Arts Federation Artistry Registry. He is a 2007 recipient of the Georgia Council for the Arts Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant, which is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.
He teams up frequently with Torres, whose Afro-Cuban heritage plays a significant role in her performances. When she’s not entertaining children and their parents, Torres is an award-winning choreographer who has worked with Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia, and has crafted dance moves for such high-profile events as the Latin Grammys, the 1999 Super Bowl and the Latin Billboad Awards.
No stranger to Miami, Nabawi, of Savannah, Ga., has received a proclamation from the city of Miami, and will be returning to share his talents with local schools and community organizations.
“My trip down [to Miami] was also preparation for Neri and I to continue collaborations as teaching artists partners,’’ said Nabawi, founder and artistic director of the Global Arts Education Network. “That will map out a plan for us to bring arts integration programming that will also assist teachers in connecting academic content and state standards in fun, meaningful ways.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. J'Miah Nabawi