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Encores and Curtain Calls

Power, beauty & joy

Holiday Gala benefits Friends of Children, Senegal-America

“The name Nimbaya! comes from the Nimba mask of the Baga people of the Coastal region in Guinea. It’s about a woman at the full zenith of her power, embodying power, beauty and joy.”

— Mamoudou Conde,
creator & director of Nimbaya!

How’s this for serendipity? Follow this seemingly pre-ordained thread, if you will. . .

Two days ago, an errant Google response to my search for the superb 1946 film version of Somerset Maugham’s novel, “The Razor’s Edge,” brought, among other things, a deeply disturbing documentary — graphic beyond tolerance — about the tragic and ongoing tradition of genital mutilation of young females in various parts of Africa — perpetrated by female elders, no less — which is where the all-too literal “razor’s edge” decisively enters into play.

Recovering from this unexpectedly sobering glimpse of 21st century tribal atavism, I am eventually forced to place it in some marginalized part of my being reserved for “Critical Issues Beyond One’s Immediate Reach.” Securing the lid on its volatile contents, I eventually moved on to cull my options for the coming week’s cultural events for this column. Among them is an intriguing presentation at the Northampton Academy of Music: “Our Children’s World, an International Holiday Gala and Benefit Concert” for the Friends of Children and The Senegal-America Project, produced by Pape Bathie Pouye, a native Senegalese who splits his time between Senegal and Northampton.

It is, in its own words, an “exuberant message of joy, love, hope, optimism and celebration” and, in the grittier description of Cameroonian vocalist Kaissa, who was particularly inspired by her father’s experience as a political prisoner after writing a “subversive” book against the new Cameroonian government in the 1970s: “I realized a long time ago that my purpose in life is to use my talent for the struggle against racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, and all other forms of social and internalized oppressions.”

The concert, which also features performances from Nimbaya!, an all-female drumming and dance troupe from Guinea, Tony Vacca and Impluse Emsemble, Flamenco dancer Ines Arrubla and jazz saxophonist Paul Lieberman, will be staged Saturday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m.

No sooner did I finish interviewing producer Pape Bathie Pouye than, within seconds, I received an email from Andrew Moffit, a much-loved student I mentored at Deerfield Academy some three decades ago. He is now a much-in-demand Florida physician who still writes music on the sly.

He wanted some professional assistance with a new composition, which his email identified as a “Hit Song for Unicef.”

Titled “We Are Related,” the lyrics run as follows:

(Imagine, if you will, the soulfully easygoing voice of a young James Taylor, layered above a guitar in three-part parallel male vocal harmony:

Whoa!

Do you know that we are related?

Whoa!

Did you ever think about it?— we are related.

One man to another,

Sisters and brothers,

We are related

One way or another,

We are related,

We are related

They call us different races

We are related,

We come from distant places,

We are related,

Sooner or later we face it,

We are related

We are related ...

Used to think that I was so much different than you,

Unaware,

Unaware of all the things we have in common,

That we share,

Everybody has the same aspirations,

Livin’ in a lovin’ world,

One human nation,

Ohhh!

But this is not about Andy but about the strangely serendipitous thread that irrevocably led — just as Andrew sang — to our realization of the inescapable connectedness and, so, indebtedness we all have to each other on this rapidly shrinking planet.

A conversation with Pape Bathie Pouye follows:

JM: Could you acquaint us a bit with Nimbaya!?

Pape: Yes, Nimbaya, the headliner, is a 14-woman drum-and-dance ensemble. In ll Africa, there is only one group that contains all female drummers and dancers, and they’re from Guinea, West Africa, and they’re coming here for the first time. Back in the days, in Africa, women were not allowed to do all that — play drums and do the singing and such things; you only saw men doing these things. So, Nimbaya is kind of like the voice of these women, to show not only that women can dance and play drums, but that women, by themselves, can have their own band, to show that everything should be equal, especially in Africa.

JM: So then, is the overall state of the African nation still one of female subjection?

Pape: Yes, in Africa, women’s rights have been violated for many, many years; but for the last few years, they have been moving forward toward equality between men and women. Now, for example, you see a woman becoming the president of Liberia — something that you never thought that would happen in Africa; and an all-female ensemble like Nimbaya! Back then, you would never have thought it possible.

JM: Is there something unique about West Africa in this regard?

Pape: No – East Africa, South Africa, it’s all almost the same situation. For example, in Senegal, West Africa, most women didn’t go to school. They thought that a woman should just be at home, in the kitchen and be a wife. But now, it’s changed and you see more women going to school and being part of the government.

JM: Ironically, it would seem, it took a man to inspire and create the group, as if perhaps the long-years of female repression required an overt invitation before women could emerge into the light?

Pape: Yes, that’s true; and that man was Mamoudou Conde.

While the focus of the benefit has been softened somewhat to harmonize with the spirit of the holiday season, and widened to embrace support of young people internationally in a variety of modalities, Pape Bathie Pouye readily conceded that the issue of traditional female genital mutilation remains at the core of Nimbaya!’s mission.

Perhaps lead performer Aminata Camara expressed the group’s concerns most succinctly at a post-performance discussion on female genital mutilation at New York University:

“We don’t want the pain of what happened to us to happen to the younger generation. We have decided to fight even if we have to give up our lives to make a change. We want you to join to us so we can break open doors. We need to perform at the United Nations to show them what is happening. People can see, they can understand. We are building a women’s center in Guinea, we want this to be a place where young girls can speak when they fear to speak and can be educated or seek treatment after mutilation. We are coming to you, even though some of our families are fighting us. This is not one individual’s work, so please help us to take this message out, talk to the people you know. Don’t wait to stop FGM (female genital mutilation); do it now.”

The Northampton Academy of Music is located at 274 Main St., Northampton. Ticket Prices: VIP, $78; early bird special, $23; general admission, $38. Academy of Music Box Office, open Tuesday through Friday 3 to 6 p.m., or call: 413-584-9032, ext.105 (Service fees will apply with purchase). Buy tickets online at
http://academyofmusictheatre.tix.com

An author and composer, columnist Joseph Marcello of Northfield focuses on music and theater. He can be reached at
josephmarcello@verizon.net.

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