Chicagoans, brace yourselves, for a mighty force of nature is on our doorstep. This is not a "snowpocalypse" that your shovels and North Face jackets provide comfort from. This is not a flood that your rubber boots and vented umbrellas can give your protection from. This is Jomama Jonesa living, breathing force of nature that floored audiences in New York City for years and has now returned to bring you an uncommon artistic experience.
Jomama is not a drag queen. She is not a female impersonator. "You could say she is my 'altar ego [ as opposed to 'alter ego' ] '," said Daniel Alexander Jones, the conduit, playwright and songwriter for "la force féminine" of Jomama. "She comes in and works her magic. Jomama exists and is intended for the audience," said Jones.
Jomama channels the energy of the stage divas of old in her Afro-puffed R&B glamour, according to Daniel: "Josephine Baker and Lena Horne are her fairy godmothers. They remind us, through beauty, joy, tenderness and wit, who we are capable of being. It is Jomama's solemn wish that she stand as a particularized reminder of the purpose of human life and that, like Baker and Horne, we can each transcend the obstacles in our lives. I wanted others to be involvedtogether. It seems that our differences get more and more attention. Jomama wants those in her presence to take that risk in connecting in a more real way to those around them."
According to Daniel, Jomama is less spectacle and more experience: "Jomama is a positive force for those who are there. If you have that opportunityif you meet a stranger and in some way bonded, you can feel as if you've known them for a hundred years and walk away having had that deep engagement."
"There is nothing idonic about Jomama as she really exists. This is the presence of a woman who has a history," said Jones. Daniel says that she represents not only her own diva self but also the inner divas of each one of her audience members: "Jomama doesn't need to say she's a diva. She's a badass and she knows it."
Jones credited Jane M. Saks and the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College Chicago as being "visionary." "The programs and artists that [ Saks ] supports and those who are trying to be a different power in this world. It gives me hope that we aren't going to hell in a handbasket," laughed Jones.
Saks, the executive director of the institute, has brought the diva-swami back, thanks to a fellowship. "One of my most important priorities and greatest privileges as executive director of the institute is working closely with the fellows during the rich period of development and research with which all new artistic work and creative investigation begins," said Saks. "The original creative voice always has the opportunity to be a 'leadership voice' and create paradigm shifts. That is why I encourage risk-taking, experimentation and innovation within the program."
Jomama left the United States for Switzerland to raise goats. "Leaving America, for a Black American, is a profound experience. Racism is everyone but it is very different in most other countries. Traveling abroad offers hope and freedom that we spend a great deal of time here in this country talking about. That's why Jomama went to Switzerland," said Daniel. "We need to be reminded that we can overcome anything, while keeping our humanity and doing so with dignity. That is the lesson of Baker and Horne."
Anyone wistful for the funk and soul created in the early '80s urban-contemporary scene by the likes of Stephanie Mills, Melba Moore and Angela Bofill will recognize some of their stage presence with the return of Jomama. The show, aptly called "Radiate," is based on the eponymous song written by Jomama and her musical partner, Bobbie Halvorson. "It's a lofty song. 'I will radiate. You will radiate.' Birth, death, life itself represent themselves here," said Daniel. "Jomama takes sheer delight from the brilliance of the artists that she gets to work with. [ Halvorson ] and my fierce backup singers, the Sweet Peaches [ Helga Davis and Sonya Perryman ] as well as the other artists we've worked with are a family of artists."
But what about the Chicago audience? What can it expect from Jomama? "Well, she's curious and she's really not sure who is going to be there or how they will be. I can tell you that this will be a place you can be genuinely open and free with one other. Come to dance! Jomama knows that Chicagoans are not impressed with artifice. They seek a direct connection," said Daniel.
"Radiate" is playing at the Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Performances are scheduled for evenings at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 19- Saturday, April 21. Tickets are $35 with student-discounted tickets of $15 available. Visit www.victorygardens.org or call 773-871-3000.