The South Carolina School of the Arts often brings in guest musicians to introduce students to different musical styles and traditions, but few artists have captivated AU students as much as current artist-in-residence Bolokada Conde.
The collaboration between Conde and AU students will culminate in the upcoming West African Ensemble Concert on October 29 at 7:30 p.m. The public is invited to this free concert, which offers the chance to experience the music of the West African Malinke culture. Conde will be the lead drummer and will also perform solo. Other expert drummers from Greenville will accompany him.
Conde is an internationally acclaimed master drummer from Guinea in West Africa. As an expert in Malinke rhythms, he is one of the world’s foremost djembefolas, meaning “one who plays the djembe.” The djembe is a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum played with bare hands that originated in West Africa.
Dr. David Perry, music department chair at the South Carolina School of the Arts, said the rare opportunity to work with Conde is a tremendous benefit for students both culturally and artistically. West African music is characterized by complex rhythms and high energy, as well as by a combination of both arranged and spontaneous pieces using various kinds of drums. AU students are not only learning these new rhythms and arrangements but are also learning the stories and meanings that are represented by the music.
“Conde’s mentorship offers our students a greater understanding of how human beings can relate to each other through music. It’s about developing cross-cultural understanding,” Dr. Perry said. “There is a Malinke proverb that says ‘Without music there is no joy, without joy there is no music.’ I can see the joy among our students as they work with and are in the presence of this culture bearer who possesses such a high level of expertise.”
Dr. Perry said that students’ opportunity to work with Conde has inpired them to improve as musicians.
“What is extraordinary about having artists like Conde is that they can work with students from wherever they are in their music career,” Dr. Perry said. Participation in the West African Ensemble is open to students of all majors—regardless of prior experience, Dr. Perry said.
The hour-long performance will be held on Anderson University’s campus at Rainey Fine Arts Center in Henderson Auditorium. It will feature 11 drummers and 11 dancers, the largest West African Ensemble in the history of AU. More than a musical concert, it will include traditional drumming, singing, costumes, dance, and storytelling in a ballet-style presentation.
To help with some of these other elements of the concert, AU brought in local dance instructor and choreographer Alisa Caldwell. As an internationally acclaimed artist, Caldwell has a strong personal and professional desire to share the beauty, culture and passion of West African dance. Caldwell said that the concert will be an event that the Anderson community won’t want to miss.
“The audience will be captivated by West African storytelling, celebratory rhythms led by Bolokada Conde, along with a fusion of beautiful traditional dances and creative expression,” Caldwell said. “Showcasing the African tradition of call and response and some of Conde’s amazing solos, the audience is sure to leave feeling energized and wanting more!”