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.

Are you ever coming back?
JC, sounds like an awesome adventure!
Hey George - it has been a great adventure. And continues to be. I've met some pretty incredible folks here and have enjoyed seeing a culture and place that existed in my mind for so long.

But yes, Ben, I'll be back. I'm afraid you'll have left STL by the time I'm back there. I know you'll enjoy New England, but we'll miss you in MO. Let's make sure we visit each other often.

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