Rights/Rites of Passage helps celebrate Black History Month

Djembe master Billy Nankouma Konaté and dancer/ choreographer Sani Abu join forces in Rights/Rites of Passage, a joyous celebration of Malinke performance traditions taking place at York University on Saturday, Feb. 28 at 7pm in the Founders Assembly Hall, 152 Founders College, on the Keele campus.

The performance is the culmination of a two-week artist-in-residency by Konaté and Abu at York. Joining the Malinke masters on stage will be local West African performance artists and students from York and the surrounding University Heights community at Black Creek, Jane and Finch. More than 50 students are participating in intensive workshops being held by Konaté and Abu throughout their residency in preparation for the concert.

Above: Djembe master Billy Nankouma Konaté (left) and dancer/ choreographer Sani Abu

In the first half of the evening, workshop participants will showcase the rhythms and dances they have learned, including kassa (harvest rhythms), dununba (strong man’s dance), sabar (a popular and provocative dance from Senegal), soli (rites of passage) and wassolon (family and community celebration).

The second half of the evening starts with a movement lesson for the audience. Afterwards, the hall will be transformed into an Afro-disco with audience participation, dancing and music. Refreshments including traditional African foods will be available.

Guinean-born Konaté learned traditional Malinke fêtes from his father, master percussionist Famoudou Konaté, with whom he has recorded and toured internationally. His own solo CDs include Saboule Möyala N´Wölobalou Kobarika (2003), M´Badakan (2006) and Iniké Papa (2008). He now shares his talent and cultural heritage with a new generation of artists in Germany, where he teaches with LaPercussion, and in Guinea, where he built his own percussion school (Konatekounda) where Guinean youth can learn traditional music for free.

Born into a family of traditional dancers, Abu launched his career at the age of 15 with the Uyi-Edo Dance Theatre in his native Nigeria. He went on to perform with many leading African-American dance companies including Alvin Ailey, The Seventh Principle and Michael Mao. He now heads his own traditional African dance company, ijo vudu Dance International, in Toronto. Recent career highlights include choreographing a dance piece for the hit TV show, "So You Think You Can Dance Canada", and his appointment by the Nigerian High Commission to foster cultural exchange between Nigeria and Canada.

The Malinke people are descendants of one of the oldest West African empires of Mali. This cultural group now resides primarily in the West African countries of Mali, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea and Ivory Coast. Music and dance form a significant part of Malinke life and are integrated with life cycle milestones and activities such as birth, socialization, initiation, occupation, religion, ceremonies and politics.

Performing Diaspora is the innovative flagship project of The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples. Located at York University in the heart of Toronto’s African diaspora communities, the institute aims to strengthen the understanding and leadership necessary to develop prosperous, harmonious multicultural communities.

Tickets are $10 each and are available through the York University Box Office only until Feb. 27. There will be some tickets available at the door on performance night. To order tickets, visit the York University Box Office Web site or call 416-736-5888.

Performing Diaspora 2009 is produced and presented by The Harriet Tubman Institute in partnership with the Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Education and with sponsorship from the Tubman Social Justice Fund, Department of Dance, Department of Music, Fine Arts Student and Academic Services, Office of the Vice President Research and Innovation, and Founders College.

Additional supporters include the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies and York University-TD Community Engagement Centre as well as the Faculty of Arts, Stong College, Winters College, Winters College Student Council, York University, Batuki Music, Small World Music and the African Dance Ensemble.