Ghanaian Hip-Hop! Royal Drummers! Your Week in African Music
This is one of those weeks when it's tough to be a fan of African music: There's so much good stuff going on, it's impossible to take advantage of all of it.
Tonight, Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador is at National Geographic. Now based in New York, this wordy old-school influenced rapper—born Samuel Bazawule—came to the United States to go to college at Kent State in 2001. The 30-year-old is a fan of old-school hip-hop like Public Enemy and KRS-One as well as Ghanaian hiplife, highlife, and Afrobeat, and he has a soft spot for female vocals, Ghanaian horns, and sampled polyrhythms.
Thursday night, Sierra Leonean singer/musician Sorie Kondi performs for free at Tropicalia. Kondi, who is blind, is a street performer in Sierra Leone’s capital city Freetown; his specialty is the "kondi," a homemade wooden thumb piano with a folkloric but not staid sound. Kondi’s metal keys create a head-nodding rhythmic sound; on some songs he is accompanied by sweet-voiced women singers. After the show, stick around for pan-African tunes from DJs Chief Boima, Underdog, and Mothershiester.
Thursday also brings the first evening of "Voices of Strength," a two-night program of modern dance and theater by African-based women at the Kennedy Center. “Correspondances," an avante-garde duet choreographed by Kettly Noël and Nelisiwe Xaba, mixes storytelling and dance; it's followed by "Quartiers Libres" from dancer and choregrapher Nadia Beugré from Côte d'Ivoire. Friday, stop by for Mozambique choreographer Maria Helena Pinto’s minimalistic solo dance performance “Sombra (Shadow)" and Moroccan dancer/choreographer Bouchra Ouizguen's "Madame Plaza."
Also on Friday, Malian singer and acoustic guitarist Fatoumata Diawara performs at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Diawara has an exquisite voice that melds soaring Malian Wassoulou melodies with folky accents; on the acoustic guitar, she adds subtle jazzy and funky embellishments.
But probably the best-known visitors this week are The Royal Drummers and Dancers of Burundi, who will be at the George Mason Center for the Arts Friday and Saturday and the Hylton Performing Arts Center on Sunday. Formed in the 1960s, this large ensemble will be in town to show off their lightning-loud, traditional drumbeats and graceful dance movements—all of which have been passed down through generations. (The members onstage won't be old-timers, but a younger set of percussionists.) “Drumming has been passed down from father to son for generations," says director Gabriel Ntagabo. If a son wishes to become a drummer, they learn from their fathers and practice. One is only chosen if they show competence.” As for their dancing, Ntagabo says, “Each dancer does his own choreography, I then refine it for maximum impact. The difference with our music is the drummers must follow the dancer. Usually it is the other way around, but with Burundi Drums, the dancer is the leader and he makes his own dance.”