In the News
The Daily News-Tribune (March 4, 2007)
Rhythm of Africa
by Matt Perkins
Drummers from Amazones perform for eighth-graders from Waltham at Brandeis University on Friday as part of the MusicUnitesUS program. (Bear Cieri/Daily News staff)
WALTHAM - Nine women filled the main stage of the Spingold Theater at Brandeis University on Friday, where they told stories not through words, but through hypnotic rhythms, melodic chants and heart-pounding drum beats.
The group of African women, ages 18-30, is known as Amazones: The Women Master Drummers of Guinea. Performing in front of Waltham eighth-graders, they passionately sang, chanted, danced and drummed, to express their feelings through music.
"Part of our mission is quality of people, and help to send a message of peace," said the group's founding director, Mamoudou Conde. "We try to spread the cultural value."
The performance was part of a program known as MusicUnitesUS. As part of the program, Waltham students come the Brandeis campus and see the link among diverse music, social studies and social justice issues they are studying in the classroom. Last month, fourth-graders learned about immigration through the program and attended a performance by Brandeis' Lydian String Quartet.
Debbie Gately, a social studies teacher at McDevitt Middle School who helped design the students' lesson plan to prepare for the performance, said the students have been studying the history of Guinea in school. They have also been studying the country's current turmoil, when it was under martial law from January through February after a general strike took place in protest of the country's president, Lansana Conte, who has been in power since the mid-1980s.
"It was a siege. They (the government) actually decided to have a curfew, which never happened in Guinea before," Conde said.
Recently, living under martial law was lifted, and Conde hopes for things to be resolved by the time the Amazones return home after their current world tour.
The eighth-graders also learned about how the Amazones have dealt with heavy criticism in their homeland, Gately said, as their main instrument of choice in their performances is the djembe, an African drum traditionally played by men in Guinea, and is forbidden for women to touch.
Gately said after the show that she hoped the students got more from the performance than they expected to see. "I don't even think they had the slightest idea of what they were going to see," she said. "It was amazing."
And the show was, in fact, well received by the students, who also were invited to dance on the stage with the group at the end of the show.
"It was a great experience," said Jonathon Villa, a McDevitt eighth-grader. "I also liked the rhythm a lot, and they expressed themselves a lot."
"The presentation expresses what they're feeling," added classmate Arlene Theodore.
What's more, the Waltham High School Percussion Ensemble, led by Kennedy Middle School music teacher Kevin Burke, performed in front of the students as an opening act to the Amazones' show.
"It was quite an honor," Burke said after the show. "To be a part of this is exactly the type of thing we like to be involved in."
Members of the ensemble felt just as privileged to have been apart of the show.
"It was really cool, because they are really good," said sophomore Perri VanderClock.
"It was a lot of fun playing for them," added freshman Erica Scheck. "It was really great, they were very different."
The Amazones, who also played for a sold-out crowd at Brandeis on Saturday night, have been performing worldwide for nearly a decade, and began their current two-year tour last July. They will soon be traveling to the Bahamas, before heading to Brazil and then Europe, eventually landing back in the United States by the fall.
For more information on the Amazones, and their homeland of Guinea, visit www.amazoneswomandrummers.com.