Thursday, July 06, 2006

From St. Louis With Love 

Hey All,
I'm not going to take much time to write tonight, but I am taking advantage of the generous gift of time on University Gaston Berger, Saint-Louis' network to upload a bunch of photos. (Thanks to Professor Barry and the folks in campus networking for helping me out there!)

Check out the photos on my flickr account. There's a mix of stuff there from my camera and Jim's and taken by numerous photographers in the group. I hope you enjoy them. I'll try to give context to the pics at a later date. Maybe I'll organize them stateside.

These three days we're here at the university enjoying a series of morning lectures about the political history, culture, arts and religion of Senegal. In the afternoons we're free to wander into the French colonial/slave trade town of St. Louis on the Senegal River. Despite its sordid past, the town is beautiful and reminiscent of port cities such as New Orleans or Savannah. The slower pace of the university and the town is a pleasant change from the hubbub of Dakar.

Will write more soon.

PS It seems my johnnyc.net email address was down for a few days. I apologize to anyone who tried to email there. It is working again.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Africa Matimbo 

Music and dance: they've been a critical part of the past few days.

Senecorps arranged for us to take a couple drumming and dance courses with a performance troop called Africa Matimbo. The classses, taught by the troop's leader, Augustin, were excellent. With the help of several other members of the troop we were introduced to the rhythms and steps of the Coocoo - a dance commemorating the bird. Despite (or because of?) his expert status in both fields, we neophytes were treated with respect and a sense of working toward a greater potential. In the supportive atmosphere of a community of practitioners and teachers, progress came quickly.

Perhaps more powerful than the classes themselves though was the opportunity to sit in on performance rehearsals following the courses. The force of energy and the strength and talent of both the drummers and the dancers is awe inspiring. I've captured (as best I can) a wee bit of the power of these experiences in some short movie clips and photos I took with my digital camera. The upload to youtube is in process right now. I hope by the end of my time here at this cybercafe, I'll have a link to send along.

The follow-up to watching the troop practice for several hours each of two nights was an epic three dance performance at Dakar's Millenium memorial, just up the shore from downtown. In the middle of a very hot day (they're all hot right now) dancers and drummers worked for nearly three hours to recount a trilogy of tales: the killing of a lion, the fete of the king, and a day of celebration. Decked out in face paint and elaborate costumes, both drummers and dancers put everything into the day's performance. Several drummers told me they'd been out playing until 4am at a hotel and had other gigs that night. I was exhausted just watching.

The music and dance (they are joined at the hip) doesn't stop with formal troops and performances. Last night on the way to dinner at a friend's house we came upon a "spectakle" (pronounced with the emphasis on the 'tack' syllable: speck TACK le). I'd estimate that 80 or so neighborhood kids were gathered in the street in a circle surrounding several drummers. As the drum called for different dances and changes in dancers, young girls (mostly) took turns jumping in the circle and strutting their stuff. Butts, arms, legs, heads, hands and feet fly, all in concert with the drum. And the neighborhood is there to watch.

Follow that up with a night at the local jazz club (head out at midnight, back at 3am) with the same band playing everything from straight jazz to reggae to west african traditional music and you've the beginning of something that finds itself in every step.

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