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Hands of a master

Master Drummer and Folklorist in Fort Wayne for 9-day Residency

By Jim Fester

Fort Wayne Reader


As part of the Three Rivers Jenbe Ensemble, Ketu Oladuwa has been introducing audiences and students in Fort Wayne to the power and beauty of the jenbe — a West African drum — for years.

And now as director of TRIAAC, the Three Rivers Institute of Afrikan Art & Culture, Oladuwa is hosting one of the internationally recognized masters of the jenbe, Guinean master artist Moussa Bolokada Condé, as part of a nine day residency from October 22 to 31. “We are excited to welcome master drummer Bolokada Condé for his premiere appearance in Fort Wayne,” says Oladuwa. “This is an educational residency that we don’t want our community to miss.”

Steeped in the rich history and tradition of the Malinké people living in the Sankaran region of Upper Guinea, Bolokada is an internationally recognized master of Malinké cultural music and folklore and has traveled the world teaching and performing. He has performed with Elvin Jones, Joan Baez, and Mickey Hart, and perfected his skills at traditional village celebrations throughout the Sankaran region of Guinea for more than 30 years before 1996 when he became the lead soloist for Les Percussions de Guinée, Guinea, West Afrika’s premiere national ballet. Since 2008 he has been a mainstay as visiting artist at the Robert E. Brown World Music Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana--Champaign.

“Bolokada is unique among Guinea’s international coterie of artists in that most of his experience playing is rooted in the village tradition, where he played for more than 30 years as the regional ‘go-to-guy’,” Oladuwa says. “The undistorted clarity of his sound, the melodic lilt of his phrases, the speed of his talking hands, and his encyclopedic knowledge of Mandé culture and tradition make him a walking university for one of West Afrika’s most respected traditional music.”

During the residency — which is a collaboration between TRIAAC and IPFW’s College of Visual and Performing Arts and Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs — Bolokada will teach classes at IPFW, perform at St. Joe Elementary School and Oak Farm Montessori schools, and conduct open community drum workshops at TRIAAC.

The highlight of the residency will be a FREE concert on Saturday, October 29, 7:30 PM, in the Auer Performance Hall at IPFW’s Rhinehart Music Center.

Backing up Bolokada at that show is the Summit City AfroPop Sextet, a group of Fort Wayne’s foremost musicians lead by Abass Camara, a Guinean drummer who now lives and works in Fort Wayne. Camara has been hard at work for the last two months, rehearsing, arranging, and directing the new group to bring the driving pulse of AfroPop from Guinea, West Afrika, to the stage.

“When music is played in West Afrika it makes the people happy,” says Camara. He adds that music in Guinea has a very practical use — to lighten people’s everyday load and inspire them to dance and be happy. “The music helps people to work together,” he says. “We want the audience here in Fort Wayne to feel that joy. We want to make the people happy to dance.”

AfroPop is a catchall term encompassing the rich variety of contemporary African music styles—typically urban, electric dance music. As each of Africa's 54 countries lays claim to dozens of distinct languages and musical traditions, Afro-Pop is a blanket description of the continent's many diverse styles, from Algerian rai to Senegalese mbalax to East African taarab.

Camara who arranged the music with the local sextet, said he and Bolokada want to show how popular Guinean AfroPop it is connected to the jenbé and dunun tradition. Concert selections will include the music of Salif Kéita, Sekouba Bambino, Ibro Diabaté, and Kerfala Kanté, among others.

Camara is the Afropop Sextet’s featured vocalist. He also plays the dunun drums, the barrel-shaped, double-headed drums played in Guinea and throughout much of West Afrika. The other members of the sextet include Jim Steele on keyboards, Clif Wallace on drums, Brian Derek on bass, Phil Shurger on guitar, and Matt Cashdollar on saxophone. Bolokada will add the power and finesse of masterful jenbé playing to the mix.

“These are very good musicians,” says Camara. “They had never played Guinea AfroPop before and they have done a very good job to become comfortable with the music. I think we will have a very good time.” While the rhythm section holds the groove, the vocals will be sung in the languages native to Guinea, and the jenbé, sax and guitar will lend their interpretation to the feeling of the music.

“In each of the song arrangements, we’ve left plenty of room for the jenbé,” says Camara, who has worked with Bolokada before playing the traditional music of their native Guinea.

Canara explains that the songs are about family relations, love between a husband and wife, about a tailor who makes a man a fine brocaded garment… in short, they’re about everyday life. “It’s about life, about people and their relationships.”

Bolokada’s residency and the free concert are a collaboration between TRIAAC and IPFW’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, and Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. It is sponsored by the Downtown Improvement District, AEP, ProFed, and Blue Marble, Inc.; and is supported in part with funds from Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne.

For more information about the residency and the free concert, call TRIAAC at 260-969-9442 or visit the website at www.triaac.org.

Bolokada Residency Schedule

Saturday, October 22, 5-7PM, Potluck community banquet, at TRIAAC

Thursday, October 27, 4:30-6:30PM, Conduct a workshop for the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, at IPFW’s Walb Union

Friday, October 28, 6:30-9PM, Conduct the first day of a two-day Drum Workshop, at TRIAAC

Saturday, October 29, 7:30PM, FREE concert performance with the Summit City AfroPop Sextet, Rhinehart Music Center/IPFW

Sunday, afternoon, October 30, 1-3:30PM, Bolokada will conduct the second day of his Drum Workshop, at TRIAAC

To register for Bolokada’s Mandé Music Workshop on Friday and Sunday, with a $90.00 cost for the two-day, 5-hour session, call TRIAAC, 260 969-9442, or get the registration form on line at http://triaac.org/blog-4/visiting-artist-blog/.

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