Dr. Yaoundée Olu
“I have always been an artist in my soul and heart.” – Dr.Yaounde Olu
Indeed, Dr. Yaounde’ Olu is an artist. She is also a scientist, a journalist, an Afro-futurism pioneer, an author, an illustrator, and an award-winning cartoonist. Olu has been activating her artistic expression for over 50 years. Born and bred in Chicago, Olu spent meaningful years on both the West and South Sides. ”We had a great childhood environment,” Olu recalls. The eldest of 6, Olu, was influenced by her father, an “excellent artist, and carpenter.” Olu recalls her dad painting Popeye and Olive oil on her wall, ”Popeye characters are my favorite today.” According to her mother, Olu was always creative and inquisitive. “My mother found a drawing of a baby buggy that I did at age two,” recalls Olu. Her mother, a journalist, said that Olu “looked for ways to bring (art and journalism) together.” Journalism came first.
Olu has been working with the Chicago and Gary Crusader newspaper since 1980. Beyond editorial writing, Olu is an award-winning editorial cartoonist and illustrator. Her work has been widely exhibited, and her editorial cartoons have won 4 Best Editorial Cartoon awards “so far.” Olu is also an indie comic and graphic novel publisher. Finding that African American artists had no place in Chicago to exhibit art, at the age of 23, Olu opened a South Shore art gallery, Osun. The gallery later morphed into Osuniversity and held a series of classes. “I was a visual artist and owned Osun from 1968-1982,” recounts Olu. “The work I had always done is what they call Afrofuturism today. I was doing this back in the 60s.”
Afrofuturism became a movement in 1994. “It looks like science fiction,” explains Olu, “…creating images and worldviews that are not necessarily where we are, but maybe somewhere else in an alternate universe, another planet, or galaxy.” This genre creates from a Black perspective. ”At that time when people thought about Science Fiction, they never thought about Black people,” Olu indicates. “(My work) was a Black version of Science Fiction.” Currently, her work is not about the future but the present, the past, and the eternal. Her work is now defined as, “Retrofuturism.” While creating the rhythm of her artwork, Olu also developed the love of drumming.
Olu bought her first Conga drum in 1969. She was self-taught but sat in with many accomplished drummers. “There were not many women drummers in Chicago; most played Shekere or danced,” recalled Olu. “I was mistreated for many years.” She used to drum at the beaches in Chicago. “One time at Rainbow Beach, there were 15 drummers,” recalls Olu. “ I asked to use a young man’s drum.” She waited for the drumming to commence, but the men would not play as long as she was part of the ensemble. She had some men drummers verbally assault her, claiming, “Woman can’t put a drum between her legs.” Dr. Margaret Burroughs reassured Olu, “Women play drums all over Africa. Why don’t you get sticks to play your Congas.” Soon afterward, Olu became a respected presence within drum circles, and today she alternates between playing with sticks and with her hands. She also plays timbales and Djembes. In 2002, Olu began her own groups of drummers.
Initially, Olu started the Wild Rhythms, then another group, Uno, that included another female drummer and a male dancer. In 2003 Olu formed the Drum Divas, the first all-female African drummer group in Chicago. The Divas now consists of 10-12 Senior women who perform regularly. “We are very non-traditional,” claims Olu. “We write our own songs. We sing, and we also have Mama Eddie as a storyteller.” Important to note, the Divas are healers. “We do many funerals,” and says, regretfully, that “In 2016 we lost two of our Drum Divas who were born two months apart,” Olu noted that drums have healing power. “Divas has a big focus on youth; our last performance was at Finger High School, (in Chicago),” recounted Olu. “Teens pretend to be nonchalant, but with the drumming, they participate.” Olu believes that music could heal much of the confusion with young people today. Spoken like a teacher, Olu has had an expansive career as a Science teacher and a retired Principal.
As a former educator and global African, Olu believes that the insertion of culture “tends to enrich people in ways that technical education does not.” She notes that “Smart instructors incorporate cultural elements into what they do as educators; it enriches the other part of our existence.” Olu acknowledges that research applauds cultural infusion in education for yielding better math and reading scores. Personally, Olu understands that Afrocentric cultural exploration is critical. Incorporating culture is an incredible “tool for healing our communities.”
“Rhythm is a heartbeat… 🥁💕 It’s the first drum, a story in sound that reveals our imagination and celebrates our power.”⠀ ⠀ A look back at a powerful moment with the Drum Divas!⠀⠀
GARDEN SPICES MAGAZINE