On Thursday, April 12, 2018, Visiting Assistant Professor of Music Charles Lwanga directed students from his “African Drumming and Dance” class in a performance that examined cross-cultural influences on identity. The performance used Malian artist Abdoulaye Konaté’s Métamorphose de papillon (2017), a recent Tang acquisition, as a catalyst.
Abdoulaye Konaté is a Malian artist whose colorful fabric collages are inspired by costumes of Senufo musicians and rituals within the Ségou region in Mali and by the social complexities of postcolonial Africa. In Métamorphose de papillon, Konaté abstracts the butterfly (papillon), a common motif in his work, to serve as a symbol of fragility and transformation, which speaks to postindependent realities in several African states. These themes inspired my spring 2018 “African Drumming and Dance” class.
Throughout the semester, my students and I worked on blending traditional and modern⁄contemporary performance styles in order to articulate the effects of colonialism in Africa. On April 12, 2018, we presented a concert titled Musicking the Collage: African Music, Dance, and Art at the Tang Teaching Museum. Influenced by Konaté’s Métamorphose de papillon, the concert featured two Afropop songs, my own art music composition for violin and djembe, three Afropop drumming pieces, and two Afro-modern dances. Apart from my composition, each piece included a combination of African costumes (in multiple colors and designs), singing, drumming, and dancing that resonated with Konaté’s artwork, which was displayed in the performance space. Moreover, the concert represented performance practices of Africa as a constellation of arts rather than as individualized art forms.
The performances articulated the African continent’s diversity, but while each entailed a sense of “Africanism,” none was purely “African” in style or choreography. In the first song Tweyanze (We Thank You), for instance, we blended Luganda, an indigenous language of the Baganda people of Central Uganda, and English, a colonial language. The song was about indigenous spirits that give life, good health, and success to loyal mortals. The song’s accompaniment was an electronic track that a student, Chidubem Udeoji, and I worked on during the semester. It was accompanied by two dancers who performed Baakisimba, a dance of the Baganda people, which was historically performed by women while men played instruments.
In another song, Avulekile (The Heavens are Open), performers sung both Zulu, an indigenous language of the South African Zulu people, and English. The song, which has become popular among gospel choirs in South Africa and beyond, is sung during celebrations including weddings and funerals. During our concert at the Tang, it was accompanied by backup singers, a synthesizer, ukulele, and a Western fiddle. Meanwhile, the backup singers performed choreography reminiscent of modern dance styles.