The tragic shooting death of drummer/performer Thapelo Imani Hill on Dec. 14 sent shock waves throughout Buffalo’s cultural community. On Saturday, January 6, an amazing display of love took place when over 300 people gathered at Ashbury Hall/Babeville on Delaware Avenue for a final tribute in his honor. Speaker after speaker spoke of Thapelo’s “light,” his energy, his beautiful smile, his bravery and his zest for life. Throughout the 4- hour gathering the spirit remained high and the energy non-stop from the electrifying African drums and beautiful African dance performance directed by Robin Hibbert to the powerful KRUMP dancers who took the celebration to its zenith. The tributes also included a musical offering by Drea D’Nur who brought the house down; a riveting/emotional poetic offering by Queen Halima Osi; a loving guest presentation by his talented sister Zoe Scruggs and a beautiful tribute by the cast of Free Fred Brown. There were profound words of reality from Pastor George Nicholas, Amilar Hill, Darryl Butts, his father Michael and others. A proclamation from Mayor Brown declaring January 6, 2018 Thapelo Imani Hill Day in the City of Buffalo was warmly received, At the close Ujima Theatre founder Lorna Hill shared rare footage of a 3-year-old Thapelo performing with the company. Holding her soul mate’s hand
(Bob Ball), she reminded all who gathered there of their deep, loving, nurturing and supportive bond with Thapelo. The celebration crossed religious, cultural and ethnic lines. Thapelo was truly a village son. On Saturday, we collectively and lovingly proclaimed, Amen!
Thapelo was born, Thursday, January 19, 1995 in Buffalo, N.Y. He made his transition from this life on December 19, 2017. We give thanks for the 22 years of Love that we were able to share with him. The Life-force energy he gave off, his brightness of smile, and happy appreciation, he caused others to feel, affected so many people of all ages and backgrounds. He is loved and respected. Son of an African Mom, Kefilwe Hill, (Gaberone, Botswana) and an African American Father, Michael Hill (Buffalo, N.Y.); Thapelo was born in Love. A beautiful 9 lb. baby boy with sparkling eyes, quick to smile and quick to the tit with an unending appetite, he truly was a joy to behold.
Thapelo grew into a 6’1” man of strength and passion. He was inspired by the love he felt from his aunt, uncles, and cousins in Botswana. He shared ideas, dreams and hope for what could be done for the well-being of family in Buffalo, throughout the U.S. and Southern Africa. By his presence, works and spirit, Thapelo distinguished himself as a Lover of Life with purpose, passion and power. He is survived by his parents, and grandmother, Dorothy Hill. Thapelo remains in the loving memory of Siblings: Amilcar Hill, Vivian Zola, Lucy Zola and Tshenolo Hill; Aunts: Ponatshego Senwamadi, Kebarange Modisane, Gomolemo Rebagamang, Khutsafalo Dickson, Kathy (Kevin) Wood, and Michelle (Darryl) Butts; Uncles: Ofentse Moradu, David and Joseph Hill. A talented and inspired traditional African percussionist and dancer, Thapelo began to develop his drumming skills at 4 years old.
He attended classes and sessions with Umbopha Emile Lattimer, and became part of the youth drummers taught by Jomo Akono, BaBa Issa, and Marlowe Wright; as well as studying with Senegalese Drummers: Mor Thiam (principal drummer for Katherine Dunham), Raymone Sylla, and Mbaye N’Diaye, and Alessane Sar. A child performer at age 6, adults often marveled at his consistent focus and discipline on and off stage as a musician and dancer when participating in arts and cultural presentations, workshops and festivals. With many of his activities associated with the Langston Hughes Center where his father was Director, Thapelo was a close observer and assistant to the business of operating a community based arts and cultural center. He saw first-hand what it means to serve as a sponsor of multi-cultural events and activities, First Night Kwaanza, and JuneTeenth Festival.
As a member of The Ujima Company Youth Theater Workshop, under the direction of Lorna Hill, Thapelo began to hone performance art skills. He brought energy, style and focus to performance which made him one of the highlights of the play “And Bid Him Sing,” an annual spring production showcasing the many talented youth and adult company members. Maturing to adulthood, becoming “legal,” Thapelo maintained a self-discipline that served him well as an emerging musical artists and producer. Collaborations with Zoe Scruggs, his “sister by another mother” set in motion a broadening of his artistic creativity and networking. A Momma’s boy, he loved African and Caribbean foods and was a budding chef. Introduced to studies of classical African civilizations and the wisdom of his forefathers, Thapelo was inspired to create, produce and help build community.
He emerged as a leader and organizer among his peers, as well as making himself accessible to be of service to his elders. Thapelo, referred to as “sun-son” by his mother, was nurtured from the womb, strengthened on the breast milk and motivated by the rhythm of Momma Africa. His Tswana heritage was a gateway to dreams of a future bridging the past, present and future. Whether creating music with a crew of friends and brothers, or doing the dirty work, cleanup work needed to support a community event Thapelo had a loyalty and trustworthiness that represented hope and encouraged others. He was a village son, let the village say – Amen.