Meet the local ensemble preserving African culture, building community spirit

Meet the local ensemble preserving African culture, building community spirit

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — At the West Las Vegas Art Center, you can find the Olabsi African Dance & Drum Ensemble, a group serving as a cornerstone of cultural preservation and community spirit here in the Las Vegas Valley.

Hasani Palacio, a member of the ensemble, says the group’s name comes from the Nigerian word “olabsi,” meaning “joy is multiplied.”

“I chose that name specifically to represent what the drum and the dance does to the energy and the spirit,” Palacio said.

For over two decades, Olabisi has been a driving force in keeping the rich traditions of African drumming and dance alive in Las Vegas.

Palacio, along with his late wife, took up the mantle in 1997 to continue a legacy that dates back centuries.

“Before 1992, there was no drum and dance presence in this whole state,” Palacio said. He explained how the group got started:

“A young lady came to town and she wanted to do drum and dance, and she took a handful of us. She said, ‘play these rhythms for me so I can do class.’ She showed us the basic rhythms. We conducted classes.”

From weddings to funerals, births to conventions, Palacio says Olabisi has been a constant presence, spreading joy and celebration wherever they go. But they’re also carrying on traditions that date back centuries.

“If we talk about the Djembe drums, it is believed to be anywhere from 400 to 800 years ago that the drum was introduced in West Africa,” Palacio said.

“There’s a tradition in making these drums. It’s made out of one solid piece of wood. You have to get permission from the tree that you’re about to cut down in order to use that wood for your drum purposes.”

Palacio says Olabisi is a testament to the unity and diversity of Las Vegas, bringing people from all backgrounds together through music and dance.

“Here at the West Las Vegas Arts Center, we not only think about our artistic development, but we also think about character development, and I think that is very important through the African tradition of learning,” said Palacio’s daughter, Tuwani.

“For people who will say there’s no culture in Las Vegas, I beg to differ. It’s a matter of you looking for it and seeking it out,” Palacio said.

From traditional child naming ceremonies to modern dance classes, it’s a testament to the resilience and vibrancy of the community.

“It’s not about perfection. You willing to spread, to want to participate in what we’re doing, please come and share what you have and just enjoy,” Palacio said.

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