Arts & Culture

Band drums up awareness for Mali

Contributing Writer
Sunday, November 13, 2011

Afri Manding’s soaring harp-like melodies and traditional Malian lyrics filled Alumnae Hall Friday as the Malian band performed a benefit concert sponsored by the Mali Health Organizing Project. The band — composed of band leader Sidy Maiga on djembe (an African hand drum), Yacouba Diabate on kora (a gourd-like string instrument) and Nampe Sadio on vocals — drew an enthusiastic audience by the end of the night, despite an initially poor showing.

The event, which featured Malian merchandise and food donated by the Late Night Fund, was intended to raise awareness for the project’s work in Mali.

“We’re just trying to get people to recognize what (the project) does,” said Stephanie Saldarriaga ’12, student director of the Brown chapter of the organization. “We’re really just trying to have a presence on campus.”

The Mali Health Organizing Project, an international nonprofit, was founded by Caitlin Cohen ’08 and Erica Trauba ‘07.5 in 2006 to bring attention to the growing health crisis in Mali. Since then, the organization has been working from its base in Sikoro, a slum neighborhood just outside the capital city of Bamako, and through various high school and college student groups in the U.S.

“We try to help the slum residents assess their own health needs and help them better address those health needs,” Saldarriaga said. “We just help them brainstorm and we help them get their own projects off the ground.”

The hands-off approach to health care and assistance was a draw for Maiga, according to Rachel Nguyen, the band’s business manager.

“Sidy’s really happy to support awareness events to help people understand a little bit about the challenges about the health care in Mali,” she said. The project is “really empowering the community itself, so it’s not just a bunch of Americans showing up and telling people how to run their health care.”

Though the concert opened to an almost empty audience, the hall slowly filled as students at the Gate were drawn upstairs by the promise of free food and entertainment.

The music was mostly a vibrant mix of percussion and vocals, with the 21-string kora providing background arpeggios. It was the pounding beat of the djembe that inspired the crowd to an impromptu dance jam on the floor. Maiga even ventured into the crowd during the performance to play the djembe among them.

“The music was pretty cool, to be honest,” Jordan Mann ’15 said. “It was a really cool way to spend the night.”

“I thought it was awesome because I’ve never heard traditional African music before,” Nate Harris ’15 said. “It’s really powerful.”

For Maiga, the concert had personal value.

“I think my performance brings joy and happiness, because when you start playing drums, everyone comes out of their shells,” Maiga said. “It does make people happy, and it can bring more people because more people hear about it.”

The project is “helping the country which I am from,” he said. “I’m very proud and happy to be able to work with them.”

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