Africa, always something new," said Roman writer Pliny the Elder in
the year 77, citing a common Greek saying with roots going back centuries
to Aristotle. Africa still has revelations for the rest of the world,
and this Saturday, a group of Middlebury College students led by Tanzanian
Yohanne Kidolezi will present some of them in a veritable feast of
free public events. Those who already know about Mchakamchaka singing,
gumboot dancing, Ghanian proverbs and Bantu languages may of course
want to skip the afternoon presentations.
even such experts on what used to be called "the Dark Continent" will
want to attend the 8 p.m. concert at the Arts Center by the Fula Flute
Ensemble. The concert, too, is free. But consider bringing some money
to buy a copy of their CD Fula Flute (2002, Blue Monster).
outfit is a multi-national Dream Team of first-class musicians whose
talents have taken them to international careers. They are masters
of such relatively lesser-known instruments as the tambin, the traditional
flute of the nomadic Fulani people of Guinea and five other countries
(voiced as well as blown so it plays chords); the balafon, a wooden
xylophone, in this case handled by one of the redoubtable Diabate
clan of West African griots (musician-storytellers); the kora, a stringed
instrument with a gourd resonator likewise known across West Africa;
another Diabate on congas; and an upright bass player.
ensemble playing gets put into the "jazz" category, but listening
to their sound clips on their Web site www.fulaflute.net (www.cdbaby.com/cd/fulaflute
also has clips, for those with the right software and type of Internet
connection) revealed a combination of relaxed ambiance and passionate,
virtuosic playing with a distinctly African sense of time and of mutual
support. Their longest song on their site was like a hypnotic or shamanistic
trance during which visions, both vehement and peaceful, kept materializing
and fading away.
Vartoogian of the New York Times hear them in 2000, and said their
performance was "the best concert I attended in a year and a half."
"The Fula Flute Ensemble's CD Dedication Concert was an extraordinary
event, full of heartfelt and immediate music that demonstrates the
special beauty and virtuosity of an all-too-rarely heard West African
culture," said Howard Mandel, president of the Jazz Journalists Association.
Rick Sanders of Roots Magazine said last March, "Forget Mozart and
Freemasons, Fula Flute is the real magic flute."
Center is visible to the east of Route 30 (look for odd roof projections),
and the access road to it goes eastward from Route 30 just to the
north of it. Those parking spaces can also be used while at the workshops
about to be described, or to park nearer to the student center, take
the road onto the main campus that goes westward at the same intersection.
does have its share of college-level intellectual analysis, for those
seriously concerned about African issues. At 1 p.m. in Proctor Hall
(Hepburn Road, south off Route 125; park on Hillcrest, which goes
southward from Route 125 just to the west), Opportune Zongo will talk
on "Africa in the 21st Century: Strategies for a Better Representation,
Understanding and Cooperation." Now directing a university program
in Ohio, she combines undergraduate work at the Universite de Ouagadougou
in Burkina Faso with a doctorate from the University of California
at Santa Clara. That sort of cross-cultural linking will be a theme
during student presentations and workshops from 2-4 p.m., with children's
activities available at the same time. They will be in the McCullough
student center; park as previously described, go to the center of
the campus, and ask any student.
can choose from programs on how Ghana's proverbs help shape that society;
the way old and new African music and culture are interrelating; how
an African language group (Bantu) as vital as the Indo-European languages
have spread and developed (Africa has many more languages than any
other continent); and on the experience of studying abroad (which
those thinking about traveling to Africa might want to attend).
are that more people will gravitate to the gumboot and mchakamchaka
workshops. Gumboot dancing started back in the slavery days of South
African apartheid, when black gold miners were chained to work stations
knee deep in foul water, and forbidden to speak while they worked.
The owners, realizing they were losing workers too fast, got them
waterproof Wellington gumboots--and the resourceful miners developed
a way of communicating without words by slapping their boots and rattling
their chains.After work, the gumboots became percussion instruments
in the dancing the workers did, remembering their homelands. Eventually,
they got so good that gumboot dancing took on a life of its own, and
is now an international phenomenon.
is a gumboot dancing group at the Dartmouth Medical School. At Holyoke
College, there was a January Term course in gumboot dancing. Schools
from Princeton to the University of Victoria in British Columbia are
offering workshops, whose leaders all talk about what fun it is to
learn this type of hamboning (Afro-Americans, when without instruments,
developed their own style of body percussion). It may not even be
necessary to bring your green rubber boots to Middlebury. Kidolezi
said the College has about 20 pairs of suitable gumboots somewhere
in the Arts Center, knowing this is definitely a living tradition.
who have gone caroling or wassailing will understand the joy of mchkamchaka,
an even more active form of community-oriented singing. Kidolezi said.
It started in the Sixties, mainly in Tanzania, as a way of spreading
political messages, then by the time of his youth it had become a
way of energizing students before the school day began. The students
would come at 6 a.m., very tired from all the physical work they had
to do at home, and not ready to learn, Kidolezi said. So to get ready,
everyone would go out running and singing in groups of 40 or 50, sharing
songs about nature's beauty or the value of doing good work and so
on. After that, he said, "everyone would be all fit and ready to start
a lesson from Africa to a country whose national vegetable seems to
have become the couch potato. Rutlanders may remember D'Moja, the
tireless African drumming and dancing group that was a big hit for
many years at First Night. They and the Middlebury student organization
UMOJA, the presenter of Saturday's events, both took their names from
a Kiswahili word meaning "community togetherness." People have many
mistaken secondhand images of Africa, said UMOJA president Paul Opare-Addo.
But "the practices that stem from that underexposure could be positively
influenced by the more personal understanding that we, as peers from
Africa, want to offer." "It's going to be very exciting," Kidolezi
promised. And if the general public votes for the event with its feet,
next year's version should be even bigger and better, he said. For
more information, call him at 443-4308, or log onto