In the News

The Justice (October 12 , 2010)

Touré arrives with Africa's fiery beats

by Wei-Huan Chen

I can hardly recall a more intimate learning experience in my 13 years as a musician than playing with members of Nettle and Alim and Fargana Qasimov, two groups that Prof. Judith Eissenberg (MUS) brought from Spain and Azerbaijan, respectively, to Brandeis for her MusicUnitesUS program. Perhaps those experiences could be trumped by the Latin drum circle workshop led by Afro-Cuban band Obbini Tumbao for last fall's residency or its concert, which prompted audience members to get out of their seats and join the band in dance-something I've never seen happen at the Slosberg Recital Hall. This week, I'm prepared to be amazed by the Intercultural Residency Series once again.

Afro-pop band Group Saloum and renowned Senegalese percussionist Lamine Touré's arrival at Brandeis tomorrow will mark another exciting opportunity for the exchange of cross-cultural learning and performance. With the help of residency curator Patricia Tang, an MIT music professor and ethnomusicologist, Touré and Group Saloum will light up the campus with their fiery mbalax rhythms and infectious sabar drum beats for 4 days of workshops, lectures and performances.

"We are so lucky to have Lamine, a griot (West African historian) [from whom] ... we can expect virtuosity that comes from discipline and talent, power, fun," Prof. Eissenberg said in an interview with the Justice. "[The concert is] not for the faint of heart or hearing, and definitely for anyone who would like to experience joy."

In addition to integrating the residency with a total of 10 Brandeis courses this week-Group Saloum will participate in open lectures and classes from the Psychology, International and Global Studies and Fine Arts departments-Eissenberg will also feature a photography exhibit in Slosberg that spotlights students' experiences in Africa.

"I think of these residencies as journeys, with music as the vehicle," she said. "Having a visual element offers another entry-a lens into the exploration." The exhibit, coordinated by Rebecca Ney '11 and Amira Mintz-Morgenthau '12, will offer a glance through students' eyes of Africa and includes photographs from Ghana, Gambia and Libya, among other locations.

The residency will culminate in a concert, titled "Lamine Touré and Group Saloum: BÃ kk to the Future," at 8 p.m. on Saturday, with a preconcert talk by Tang at 7 p.m. Unlike previous years, tickets for the final performance will only cost $5 with a Brandeis student ID.

In addition to coming from a long lineage of Wolof musicians and oral historians, called griots, Senegalese drummer Touré has garnered fame as a percussionist in Africa and in the modern global music scene. He has been performing around the world since 1997 on the sabar and djembé, which are African drums, the tama, or talking drum, and taasu, a type of rhythmic poetry. Touré found himself in Boston starting the African jazz-funk fusion band Group Saloum and serving as an artist-in-residence at MIT with the help of Tang. The two are currently married, and live together in Boston.

Group Saloum fuses jazz, reggae, Afrobeat and funk with mbalax, the popular dance music in Senegal. Developed in the 1970s, the genre was a move away from the Cuban- and American-influenced popular music at the time, drawing from Afrocentric "back to the roots" philosophies and helping the people of Senegal to forge a new national identity. In her book, Masters of the Sabar: Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal, Tang examined the role of Wolof griots like Touré, whom she interviewed, in contemporary Senegalese culture.

Highlights for the week include an event tomorrow at 5 p.m. where students can join "Introduction to African and Afro-American Studies" with an open performance and discussion focusing on Toure's path from local Africa tradition to the Boston music scene. On Thursday, the entire visiting ensemble will offer a special sneak preview of its sound in the Shapiro Campus Center Atrium. On Friday from 9 a.m. to noon, students can join "Global Pop Music", "Introduction to Drawing" and "Movement for Stage" in an open workshop that mixes different artistic responses through art and dance.

Having attended many of these workshops in the past two years, I would not hesitate in recommending students who are in the above courses to invite their friends to stop by. Generally speaking, the lectures are a combination of private music lessons and visiting professor lectures-I will not be surprised if the members of Group Saloum not only speak about their music and culture but also break out their intruments and show students the basics of their art.

"We had a musician from the Middle East say to the audience once, 'You've heard a lot about Iraq in the news lately; how many of you have heard an Iraqi love song?' And then he played one," Eissenberg said, illustrating why she founded the MusicUnitesUS series. "It's kind of about that."

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