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Asadata Dafora
Born: August 4, 1890
Died: March 4, 1965
Occupation: dancer
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

Hughes, Langston, and Milton Meltzer. BLACK MAGIC: A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN IN THE PERFORMING ARTS. Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1967.
Long, Richard A. THE BLACK TRADITION IN AMERICAN DANCE. New York, N.Y., 1989.
Southern, Eileen. BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND AFRICAN MUSICIANS. Westport, Conn., 1982.
Stearns, Marshall, and Jean Stearns. JAZZ DANCE: THE STORY OF AMERICAN VERNACULAR DANCE. New York, N.Y., 1968.
Thorpe, Edward. BLACK DANCE. New York, 1990.

Source Citation: "Asadata Dafora." ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE AND HISTORY. 5 vols. Macmillan, 1996. Reprinted by permission of Gale Group.