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Poet, rapper Oompa brings artists together with #QuarantineDanceChallenge

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Poet, rapper Oompa brings artists together with #QuarantineDanceChallenge
Oompa PHOTO: KHABEER SULTAN

Boston native artist Oompa has been making waves in the local music scene for years. The poet, rapper and educator won the 2018 Unsigned Artist of the Year award from Boston Music Awards and was nominated for an unprecedented six awards total. Now, in the age of social distancing, Oompa is bringing the community together in a whole new way: through dance.

In the first few weeks of the coronavirus spreading through the United States, the artist was feeling high levels of anxiety. “I had to decide if I was going to live in fear, which is paralyzing, or try to find some bit of hope or joy or some perspective in this that could be more useful to me,” she says. And so, she danced it out. In an Instagram video posted on March 13, Oompa worked it out to Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” while wielding cleaning products like Lysol wipes and disinfecting spray.

What started as a way to blow off steam quickly exploded into a dance contest. When a commenter on Oompa’s post dubbed the video “Corona Soul Train,” Oompa tagged a group of friends and collaborators to post their own videos. Before long, musicians all across the city were participating what became dubbed the #QuarantineDanceChallenge. Boston Art & Music Soul (BAMS) Fest has been reposting the videos on its Instagram feed to keep the positivity going.

On the web
Watch Oompa’s original video:

“I think it’s okay to feel things that aren’t positive. I’m not here to say that we shouldn’t be realistic, and we shouldn’t be aware and educated and concerned. I think we should be all of those things,” says Oompa. “But in this particular moment I think it’s important for us to maintain a semblance of hope and aliveness and joy and togetherness.”

Many musicians have lost substantial income due to gigs canceled because of social distancing efforts. Oompa says she lost about $20,000 this spring due to canceled gigs, including speaking engagements at local colleges.

Some resources have been established to aid artists, such as the city of Boston’s Boston Artist Relief Fund and The Record Co.’s Boston Music Maker COVID-19 Fund. These funds, fueled by community donations, provide small supplements to help artists pay bills and cover rent. But many music makers are still left in a precarious situation. Oompa says now is the time to support musicians by buying their music and merchandise and participating in and sharing their online efforts such as live streams.

“Whether or not there’s this pandemic in front of us, we know what it’s like to have to pull resources together,” says Oompa. “It takes all of us together for this to happen.”

The important thing to remember is, as bad as things get, the arts community can always work it out on the dance floor — or in this case, the kitchen floor.

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