Friday, March 4, 2016

Rhythm Griots

What a great two-day treat it was to be able to attend the concert in the evening, to be followed by a drumming and question and answer session the next day! I, like many others, came to the concert with some preconceived notions about what the style of music being played would be like. I am quite familiar with traditional Arab music and the similar Greek music form from which, traditional Arab music takes some if its musical inspiration. I could not have imagined the indigenous feel of the music being played on what would have been traditional tribal instruments. This in combination with the multicultural perspective of the group itself made for a truly unique experience! It is easy to see in western culture how music pervades every part of our lives and what one can see from such a concert experience is that music has been with humanity for quite sometime and continues to be so. Musical instruments such as the "talking drum" being played by Massamba Diop are not simply musical instruments, however. They were first a method of communicating from village to village as the sound is able to travel for long distances. The drum was played under the arm and varied in intonation depending upon the movement of the arm and where the drum is struck (either by the hands or the mallet. This varied intonation was displayed in the way that Tony Vacca challenged Massamba Diop to match the intonation of his voice on the talking drum and In such a demonstration, it is easy to see why the drum is so named. The talking drum in present time means quite a lot more than a simple communication device or instrument however. Massamba spoke, while answering questions of culture, of a saying that is used in Senegal. He spoke of passing the "bowl" (a generational gift) from generation to generation and in so doing, never letting the traditions of one's culture die. For Massamba, his "bowl" is the talking drum. Massamba also spoke of the drum's ability to keep one happy and young, and rightfully so, as I would have never Imagined that Massamba could have four children, all of whom are either as old or older than myself! When he and I talked about this he said, "You see! I could be your father"! The belief that doing what one is meant to do in life will keep one young prompted me to think that perhaps the drum is in some way, a connection to God for Massamba. Religion is, after all, a very important theme in his life as a Muslim and as the son of an Imam in Senegal. As I listened to both Massamba and the excellent dancer, Abdou Sarr talk, I thought that these two men, who are so passionate about their music and their faith, are the example that poorly taught westerners should be presented with, so as to do away with harmful misconceptions about Islam. They spoke frequently of acceptance, love and of all the elements that unite us as the human race. This is quite a stark difference from the many misconceptions that Ira Zepp wrote of in the early chapters of his "Muslim Primer". A side note: After Dr. Esa made a comment about Sufi influence in this sort of music and dance, I noticed that as Abdou danced, with arms spread out wide, he like his Sufi brothers and sisters, had one palm up to the heavens and the other facing down towards the earth. I took notice of this a little late, however and was not able to ask about its meaning to him. Perhaps he felt as though he was bring some divine influence into the room so that we like the Sufis, might experience that love of God through music and dance. These experiences grow so much richer when one is able to learn of the cultural context behind such musical traditions. I felt as though, not being familiar with this sort of music, it required me to have a certain self-awareness so as to keep the western musical tastes out of my consideration and submit to the new experience. Having successfully done that, the performance only got richer the second time I saw Massamba, Abdou, and Tony. Immediately after the concert,  I visited Tony Vacca's Website concerning his project with Senegal. We should be thankful that there is someone in the United States that wishes to connect our cultures and enrich our lives! As Apart of this project, Tony has combined western musical instruments and styles with the music of Senegal. Above is an example of the way in which he has combined american Jazz with traditional Senegalese instruments such as the marimba that we saw in the concert on Wednesday night. Thank you to Massamba, Abdou, Tony, the McDaniel Music department, and Dr. Esa for this experience! 

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