Performing Diaspora 2009: A Celebration of African Heritage at York University

23 Feb 2009


York University continues to celebrate Black History month this week by hosting jazz legend Randy Weston on Feb 13th. Part of the series “Performing Diaspora”, which launched with a bang last week with Malian griot musician  Ballaké Sissoko, York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples brings us the best of the Africanist dance and music traditions during Black History month.

Going all the way back to the 1950’s Randy Weston, who trained under luminaries such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, has sought to demonstrate the link between traditional African music and jazz. His 1960’s seminal album “Uhuru Africa” brought African drumming to jazz and was a rallying cry for the independence struggle of various African colonial states.

Recognizing that the stories of the Diasporic peoples are encoded in music and dance, The Harriet Tubman institute teamed up with York University’s music and dance departments to build a community and a network through the performing arts. As York music professor Rob Simms explains, the Performing Diaspora series brings together both local and international artists with the goal of engaging the community through schools visits, workshops and performances.

Speaking of local hip hop artists going into schools in the Jane & Finch area near York University, Professor Simms points out that “rappers are really an extension of the griot culture from West Africa.”

Echoing this belief in the power of the performing arts to usher-in social change, ijo vudu Dance International Artistic Director, Sani-Abu, tells AfroToronto.com that, like music, dance in an integral part if self-knowledge and cultural transformation. “Dance is joy, dance is medicine, dance heals, dance is life. ... Life is not about carrying a gun, or to hate your neighbour. Life doesn’t say that. That’s why we are trying as much as possible to educate and entertain our younger ones because they are the leaders of tomorrow” he says.

Similarly to the music component of Performing Diaspora, Sani-Abu will be performing with local dancers from the Jane & Finch area, along with his dancers from the ijo vudu dance company. As Sani-Abu explains, ijo vudu is Yoruba and means “the spirit in dance”.

On January 28th, there will be a showcase of traditional West African dances from countries like Nigeria, Mali, Ghana, and Senegal.

For more information about these upcoming events, see below:

Randy Weston’s African Rhythms Solo Piano Concert
February 13 ~ 8:00 pm
Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building
Admission: $40 | $25 students & seniors
Box Office: 416-736-5888

Jazz legend Randy Weston takes centre stage in this showcase performance spotlighting his consummate command of the keyboard and his visionary approach to music-making. With a dazzling international performance career spanning six decades, the composer of Hi-Fly, Little Niles, Berkshire Blues and African Cookbook is at the peak of his power. Encompassing the vast rhythmic heritage of Africa infused with the soul of jazz, his boundary-breaking music continues to inform and inspire.

Artist’s Talk and Q&A with Randy Weston
February 13 ~ 1:30 pm
Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building
Free admission

Rights/Rites of Passage
West African Drum & Dance Showcase
with Malinke masters Billy Nankouma Konaté & Sani Abu
February 28 ~ 7:00 pm
Founders Assembly Hall, 152 Founders College
Admission: $10
Box Office: 416-736-5888

Djembe master Billy Nankouma Konaté and dancer/ choreographer Sani Abu join forces in this joyous celebration of Malinke performance traditions. The concert is the culmination of a two-week artist-inresidency by Konaté and Abu at York University . Joining them on stage are students and West African performance artists from the local community. Guinean-born Konaté learned traditional Malinke fêtes from his father, master percussionist Famoudou Konaté, with whom he has toured internationally. He now shares his talent and cultural heritage with a new generation of artists in Germany and Guinea . Abu launched his career with Uyi-Edo Dance Theatre in his native Nigeria and went on to perform with many leading African-American dance companies including Alvin Ailey, The Seventh Principle and Michael Mao. He heads his own traditional African dance company, ijo vudu Dance International, in Toronto.

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