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West African Griot Summit

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This year, Afropop had the chance to catch the second annual West African Griot Summit, held at The Graduate Center Elebash Hall!  The summit is an annual performance/reunion/conference by and for the US contingent of West African griots (or “praise singers”), masters of a musical tradition that focuses on political and social commentary. This year’s lineup, curated by Sylvain Leroux, featured performers like Abdoulaye Diabate, Abdourahmane Mangara, Yacouba Diabate, Mamady Kouyate, Mamady Kourouma, and Famoro Dioubate (An all-star crew that originating from all over West Africa. Nationalities included Burkina Faso, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.) Also spotted was our very own Banning Eyre, rocking out with the rest of the choir.

To set the scene, it seems important to point out that before the concert, just about everyone in my row (including me) had a notebook out and a pen at the ready, eager to report back to our respective sources. However, before the concert was even halfway finished, all such responsibilities had fallen by the wayside, and the night had been transformed into a wild party! Everyone was dancing around their seats, pens and notepads forgotten on the floor; I had become life-long best friends with the girl next sitting to me, and everyone was clapping their hands until they STUNG.

To quote an overheard conversation- “I almost forgot it was dead cold outside.” Why? Because we were the warmed to the bones by the groove of the intricate West African rhythms and the power of the singers. The beats were strong, and the pulse of the drums dominated the room, creating an overwhelming current that was enveloped by the enchanting interplay of guitar and balafon. Following the griot tradition of explosive improvisation, the evening built in intensity as more and more musicians were brought to the stage, generating perfection in tune after tune, pulling the audience off its collective feet. It was the kind of night in which, once you first started to move, you  COULD NOT STOP.

In the end I fed my ears with incredible sounds, made a new friend, and forgot about how cold it had been.  That is winning. Griot Summit YOU WIN. AND they say next year is going to be better…

See pictures from the event! All Pictures courtesy of William Farrington.

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