Dreaming of Djembes in Chambana: Midwest Mandeng 2016

Image of the flyer advertising Midwest Mandeng 2016.

Flyer advertising Midwest Mandeng 2016.

Every fall, for one weekend, some of the most renowned West African drummers and dancers come to Champaign-Urbana for a full weekend of workshops, demonstrations, community-building, and general merriment. The annual festival, called Midwest Mandeng, was first held in 2014 and is organized by a dedicated group of volunteers including me, Mara Thacker, the South Asian Studies Librarian at the International and Area Studies (IAS) Library. A promotional video produced for the first Midwest Mandeng in 2014 explains what it’s all about:

This year, the festival will be October 7th, 8th, and 9th on the University of Illinois campus and downtown Urbana. Be sure to check the full schedule to see all the details on locations and timings.

The IAS Library and the Center for Global Studies are getting in on the action this year by co-sponsoring a special performance with master djembefola, Bolokada Conde, one of the most celebrated master drummers in the world.  Originally from Guinea, West Africa, Conde was the lead soloist of Les Percussions de Guinée, a group sponsored by the Guinean government that presents traditional music and dance, especially from the Guinean highlands. For over a decade, he has taught workshops worldwide to beginning and advanced students. While he currently lives in South Carolina, he taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a visiting professor from 2008-2011, leading Mande drumming, rhythms, and songs.

Bolokada plays djembe at a demonstration at the Urbana Free Library at Midwest Mandeng 2015.

Bolokada plays djembe at a demonstration at the Urbana Free Library at Midwest Mandeng 2015.

On Friday, October 7, 2016, from 4:00-5:00 p.m., Bolokada will visit the IAS Library to share his stories and experiences touring and performing all over the world, and showcase some of the Malinke rhythms that he has mastered over the years. This event is free and open to the public.

If you feel inspired by the event, check out some of the drum and dance workshops held in the studio rehearsal space in the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. All of the workshops are open to all experience levels and drums can be borrowed free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Check out the event website for more information, or contact Mara Thacker at midwestmandeng@gmail.com.

To find out more about West African drumming and dancing, the IAS Library and the Music and Performing Arts Library have a few options for you. Check out some of our visiting artist’s, Bolokada Conde’s, recordings in CD format: Morowaya, Sankaran, and Rhythm Manding.

Bolokada Conde's "Rhythm Manding" CD.

Bolokada Conde’s “Rhythm Manding” CD.

For visuals to accompany the audio, YouTube has a number of recordings available of Guinea’s national dance company, Les Ballets Africains. Also, some of the company’s amazing past productions are on on YouTube. One particularly inspiring piece is a clip of the troupe performing the rhythm dundunba, which is the dance of the strong man and also one of the de facto party dances in celebrations in Guinea.

There will be a community dundunba party as part of Midwest Mandeng where you can try out some dance moves or hear the rhythm in person. Check out the Facebook event page and join in on the fun!

If you want to get meta, check out George Worlasi Kwasi Dor’s 2014 book, West African Drumming and Dance in North American Universities: An Ethnomusicological Perspective. There is also a fascinating thesis on “Performance, Politics, and Identity in African Dance Communities in the United States” written in 2012 by Sarah Sandri at the University of Oregon which is freely available online.

We hope to see you in IAS on the 7th for Bolokada Conde’s free performance!

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About Mara Thacker

Mara Thacker is an assistant professor and the South Asian Studies Librarian at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her research is focused on trends in area studies librarianship with a focus on niche collections, and public engagement and outreach. She has used this research to foreground her work to build and market the largest collection of South Asian comics in a North American research library. Mara is also currently serving as secretary on the executive board of the Committee on South Asian Libraries and Documentation (CONSALD).

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