Diamano Coura West African Dance Company
DANCE ORIGIN: West Africa
Diamano Coura performs and tours extensively in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Diamano Coura offers classes in music and dance, arts advocacy and information
sessions, serving as a community hub for African Diaspora artists. Diamano
Coura in the Senegalese Wolof language means “those who bring the message.”
ORIGIN: Liberia, Guinea, and Senegal
In Djembe Love, five bright dances from West Africa pay homage to the djembe drum—the inseparable partner of African dance. The djembe’s rhythm commands the dance, as it signals rejoicing, healing, and connection in community.
Drum Talk is an improvised dialogue between the charismatic drummer and utopia-bound dancer.
The Breaking of the Sande Bush, from the Lorma ethnic group, celebrates a girl’s rite-of-passage from the secret Sande society. In Liberia’s remote, mountainous Lofa County, girls return from a sequestered bush school for their initiation into adulthood. Under the sacred guidance of zoe, spiritual leaders of the female society, they display new skills. Lorma initiates wear threaded skirts woven on a hand-held loom. Beads around their waists represent protection and show their status. Dangling threads hide the girls’ faces, as no one except family should see them. The white chalk signifies purity.
Macru is a fast-paced flirtation dance from the Susu group of Guinea.
Sokho, a celebration dance from the Komanko group in Faranah, Guinea, was originally a male initiation dance.
Mandingo is a celebratory dance from the Mandingo people, Africa’s prominent ethno-linguistic group, (Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania.) The Mandingo are descendants of the Mali Empire, founded 1235, once one of the world’s largest. Wealthy in gold and salt, the empire had an army second only to the Mongols’ and over four hundred cities, including the great Middle Eastern-African cultural center, Timbuktu. Mandingo musical and spiritual tradition is known for its griots, poets who pass down history through song, and for its exquisite music on drums and banjo-like kora.
The djembe hand drum is carved from
one piece of wood and has an animal-skin head. It also descends from the Mali
Empire—traditionally housed in a shrine, used only for ceremony. In the 1950s, Les Ballets Africains,
Fodéba Keïta, and the National Ballet of Senegal brought the djembe on tour, and now it inspires
musicians and dancers around the world. It is the drum that talks, the drum that opens
hearts. For Sande Bush, a kingi log
drum speaks a language of the forest.
DANCE ORIGIN: South Africa, West Africa
DANCE ORIGIN: Liberia
The Leopard Ballet is an excerpt from a Liberian dance drama of the same name, from the folklore tradition of the Vai Tribe. The story takes place in a village threatened by a leopard. When the king’s daughter is killed by the leopard, he calls his best hunters to hunt down the terrifying animal, offering as a reward his other daughter in marriage. Thus begins the danced battle with the leopard, and the piece ends in a community celebration of victory.
The story is a folktale written in 1970 by Liberia’s prominent novelist Bai Tee Moore. It’s based on a similar event from ten years before in a village of the Vai people (Moore’s own community) of Cape Mount County in Liberia. Moore worked at the Ministry of Culture and the Liberian National Cultural Troup turned his folktale into a living piece of folkloric ballet, now a national treasure. He spoke often about the significance of honoring indigenous Liberian culture. Upon his death in 1988, Liberian author and politician Wilton Sankawulo wrote, “The best tribute we can pay to the memory of Bai Tee is making our culture part of our daily life, for culturally we are dressed inborrowed robes . . . to replace these alien garments with ones of our own making…”
The Vai people use whole body ceremonial masks that transform dancers, signifying another being has entered the dance. In this piece, the leopard mask shows movements of the animal and signals that the dancer is taken over by its spirit. White chalk is a sign of purity and blessing, worn by hunters for protection.
The music is traditional, and it is specific to harvest, animalistic representation, and celebration, calling everyone together.
The Leopard Ballet was
learned from Nimely Napla, and re-staged by Napla and Naomi Diouf with
additional choreography by Ousseynou Kouyate and Ibrahima Diouf and
some aspects from Dr. Zakarya Diouf’s Serrer tradition. Costumes are by Nimely
Napla, and music is by Madiou Diouf, Dr. Zak Diouf, Mory Fofana, Mohammed
Kouyate, and Darian LaFoucade. The piece had its U.S. debut this year at
Oakland’s Malonga Center for the Arts.
2009 Title: Zaazi
2009 Costumes/Staging: Nimely Napla
2009 Dancers: LaTashia Bell, Tamika Davis, Stefon Dent, Esailama Diouf, Ibrahima Diouf, Kine Diouf, Naomi Diouf, Fikpee Flomo, Diony Gamoso, Paul Griffith, Ebony Henderson, Patrice Henderson, LaDonna Higgins, Antoinette Holland, Dedeh Jaimah, Kelly Kouyate, Sekou N’Diaye, Nimely Naplah, Djien Tie, N’Deye Penda Toure, Stephanie Wilson
2009 Musicians: Madiou Diouf, Dr. Zakariya Diouf, Bli Bi Gore, Josh Jacob, Mohammed Kouyate, Darian LaFoucade, M’Bay Louvouezo, Gbassay Zinneh
The Breaking of the Sande Bush is a rite-of-passage dance of the Lorma ethnic group. It comes from one of Liberia's more remote regions—Lofa County, in the northeast mountains. The Lorma have two secret societies which initiate and care for their members—poro for males, and sande for female. Young Lorma girls are taken from their families to a Sande Society or Zardaygai—a center of learning—in the bush. There, they are guided by zoe, spiritual leaders of the female society. Maintaining total secrecy from men, they learn how to cook, dance, and sing; study biology; and learn how to conduct themselves as women. This zaazi dance, as it is called in Liberia, celebrates the girls return to their parents and their initiation into adulthood. Under the eye of the zoe, the girls display their skills.
The ceremony celebrates differences— between women and men, forest and village, and invisible spirits and visible maskers. Dancers in full-body masks embody the spirit of the African bush and of the community. The ZaaZi (the first mask to enter the stage) is the girls' guide and protector; it announces their readiness to leave and dances to celebrate their achievements.
The young women wear thread skirts woven on a hand-held loom. Beads around their waists represent protection and show their status. Dangling threads hide the girls' faces, as no one except family should see them. The white chalk signifies purity.
Diamano Coura's percussionists evoke Lorma's traditional sounds: a cow horn announces the masked dancers; an uncut gourd laced with seeds—the sa-sa or kpokui—imitates various forest birds. The kingi log-drum communicates directly with the dancers and the "masks": it provides signals for movement and its beats emphasize specific gestures. It is understood that the kingi drum speaks a language, and the initiates must learn the Kingi language before graduating from bush school. Musicians also play the badige or sagban drum and the gbe-gbe-ge bass drum.
The origin of The Breaking of the Sande Bush is unknown, as the secret Sande Society has no written history. Artistic Director Naomi Diouf studied the dance with Nimely Napla of the National Cultural Troupe in Liberia and in Oakland, CA. The company, in apprenticeship, researched and trained intensively in movement and song. It was performed in 2006 at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts in Oakland.
TITLE OF PIECE: Kakilambe
In Diamano Coura’s historical re-creation, the Kakilambe and his counterpart, fertility goddess Nimba – Mother of the Earth, are called upon for assistance to restore balance to a village. The dance depicts a young woman becoming possessed by an overpowering entity. Her lifeless body is revived through dancing, cleansing and offerings to the Kakilambe spirit. When his spirit is appeased, the Nimba mask, depicted as a huge towering bird with large breasts, is summoned to make the women and land fertile. A grand celebration concludes the ceremony.