African drum, dance company kick off new series

Dancers kick off the Expanding Your Horizons Brown Bag Concert Series. (RYAN MILLER/ The Daily Campus)

The Moussa Diabate and the Djely Kunda West African Drum and Dance Company played in the Taubman Atrium of the Owen Arts Center for the Expanding Your Horizons Brown Bag
Series Wednesday.

Lovers of African drum and casual lunchgoers watched eagerly as bandleader Diabate took the floor.

Pungent pops from percussionists warmed a rain-weary audience.

Band members on the duduk often provided support, banging out rhythms in a listless breeze. Abu behind the balfoun (an instrument similar to the xylophone with wooden bells attached to the bottom) struck tangy leads with an impish grin.

Three dancers soon accompanied the performance.

Each dancer swiveled, jumped and grinned, as if celebrating the birth of a prince.

Songs assumedly about African history were delivered in a breathless hum, unable to overpower the immaculate drumming.

Audience members were called to dance, too.

One girl from Oak Hill Academy led the charge, fixed on matching the dancers’ hip swivels and hand gestures.

Others followed as well, bumping and moving in one large crowd, Diabate grinning all the while.

Mary Guthrie, marketing and promotions coordinator at SMU, leapt at the chance to join the band.

“You bet,” Guthrie said. “You don’t get the opportunity to witness this level of drumming [often], and if you have an invitation, why not?”

Diabate, sweating since the band’s warm-up, lectured the audience on the history of African drum music. African history has “too many stories” to write down, Diabate said.

Historians instead become storytellers, or “jali.” Drums are used to help communicate this history.

The African drum has played an important influence on Chris Rollins. The 23-year-old credits the drum and Diabate with helping him grow as a person.

“It’s not about being the best,” Rollins, a percussionist for Diabate since age 7, said. “It’s about being better than you were yesterday.”

Diabate percussionist Ann Vandenberg agreed, adding that African drumming teaches patience and selflessness.

African drum music has no meter, Vanderberg says, making togetherness key.

“It forces you to lose your ego, pay attention to others,” she said.

Drenched through his clothes, Diabate closed with a reminder that African history is about family, inviting the audience to a drumming class right after the performance.

Moussa Diabate and the Djely Kunda West African Drum and Dance Company currently teach at Booker T. Washington High School.


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