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Podcast: Aya Shabu of Whistle Stop Tours

Posted By Craig Carter on Jul 13, 2022

“I’m an artist and I’m using history as my paint. The canvas is the neighborhood. The people are the real actors in my play. The residents who have lived these stories.” – Aya Shabu

Aya Shabu is a dancer, choreographer, teacher, tour guide, mother, wife, writer, artist, and the founder of Whistle Stop Tours — a performance touring company dedicated to sharing Durham's Black history through walking tours. Mama Aya, as she’s known in her community, created Whistle Stop Tours to be a contributing voice in shaping the public memory of North Carolina’s slave past and African American achievement. We sat down with her to learn about her unique approach to teaching history, her relationship with dance icon "Baba Chuck" Davis, one of the foremost teachers of traditional African dance in America, and much more.

Whistle Stop Tours is known for doing ancestral work through performance storytelling. The continuation of oral history passed down through generations of Aya’s family and the Durham community is what Aya calls ritual performance. It’s a celebration of the Black aesthetic, not a reenactment but a way to revisit places from history that no longer exist.

2022 marked the 10th anniversary of Whistle Stop Tours. It all started with a walking tour of the Hayti district and has grown into four tours – Hayti, Black Wall Street and West End walking tours, and the Durham Green Book Bus Tour.

Hear a sample of her storytelling and get a taste of how she draws her audience into her characters, the places, and the forces that influenced the tales she tells.