You have encountered him on many occasions on the Black arts scene. His name is Kojo Ade, and he is the city’s cultural messenger. Like the ancient African drummers, he keeps the community informed.
Standing erect and easily noted in the crowd wearing his familiar kufi and African attire, he personally gives out flyers on Black cultural events happening throughout the city, which may include the African Diaspora, African dance, African film festivals, jazz, art exhibits and Black theater.
Kojo is an artistic and audience development consultant. “I was inspired to use that term from AUDELCO Audience Development Committee Inc.], which refers to multi-marketing techniques,” says Kojo. “Vivian Robinson, the founder of AUDELCO, was one of my mentors, and Katherine Cook of the Wiz Group was influential. I worked with her on Melvin Van Peebles’ Broadway
In this world of technology, Kojo does not email, tweet or use Facebook. He has no connection with social media; he likes to hit the streets for
His sincerity for what he is promoting has won him many friends. People often stop and remind him how happy they were with the play or concert he suggested. In his five decades, he has become friends with Max Roach, Abbey Lincoln, Oscar Brown Jr., Donald Byrd, Ousman Sembene (father of African cinema) and Randy Weston. “I learned from these elders, and Randy Weston remains a positive role model,” stated Kojo. “One of my mentors who promotes jazz and offers support is Jim Harris.”
Kojo, like a rock star, is known only by his first name. He shared his birth name, but I was sworn to secrecy. Born and raised in Harlem, residing in the Harlem River Projects, he attended P.S. 90, but for high school, he decided to take the subway ride to Taft High School in the East Bronx.
“I love all aspects of our artistic culture,” notes Kojo.
“I was influenced by Harlem and my parents. They went to the Palladium on a regular basis to dance, and at home, they were playing Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Afro-Cuban jazz.”
During high school, when Kojo and his buddies gave dances in Harlem and the Bronx, he was the promotions guy handing out flyers. “I was so outspoken about the support for our events; they always picked me.”
While attending the City College of New York, he was in a cultural exchange program that sent him to Nigeria, where the fathers named him Kojo Ade (meaning “royalty born abroad returns home”). Today he remains a student, learning African languages while greeting people in Swahili, Yoruba or Waloff, a
dialect of Senegal.
Kojo was involved in the African Jazz Arts Society and Studio founded by Elombe Braithwaite in 1968. The organization held dances and cultural events and spearheaded the Black is Beautiful National Movement. The Third World Cinema–an organization started to assist Blacks with getting into the film industry–in 1970, and Kojo was interviewed by actor and co-founder Ossie Davis and Cliff Fraser. Due to his interest in theater marketing and public relations, he was given an internship with Irene Gandy Associates.
He spent some time in Los Angeles in 1973 and later became heavily involved in the music business as the road manager and publicist for musician-composer-producer Norman Connors from 1975-77. Woodie King Jr. gave him his first marketing job in theater (1977) at the New Federal Theater (founded by King). From there he was on his way, working with Vy Higginson’s musical “Mama, I Want to Sing,” the Negro Ensemble Company and as an independent on August Wilson’s Broadway
He was the first African-American male to get a group sales ticket broker license in 1987. This afforded him the opportunity to get tickets off- and on Broadway for Black churches and community organizations at group discounts, as well as coordinating distribution of flyers. “For me, this is basically grassroots promotion trying to give back to the community,”
Kojo selects his projects wisely. The productions are significant and relevant to the Black community and can be a focal point of new understanding for others. “The formula for audience development applies to all arts and culture,” stated Kojo. In 1979, he worked with Elombe Braithwaite and Peter Long, who were responsible for bringing Bob Marley to the Apollo Theater.
In 1987, he worked on the award-winning play “Death and the King’s Horseman” by Wole Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature, making him the first African laureate. His film projects have included “Sankofa, Daughters of the Dust” by Judy Dash and “Glass Ceiling” by Charles Burnett. His current projects include the African Film Festival at Lincoln Center, the Second Company of Alvin Ailey and the National Black Arts Festival since 1996.
“We should not separate our community from the value of our culture; our culture is a part of our daily life,” says Kojo. “Embracing our whole community through our arts and culture will provide us fellowship, enjoyment and self-esteem as human beings.”