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Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa

The Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa appears tonight at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. The performance begins at 7 p.m. in Foellinger Great Hall.

Comprised of singers, dancers and musicians from the various cultures of West Africa, this company combines the traditional rhythms, instruments, folklore and mythology of nations such as Togo, Senegal, Guinea, Ghana, Benin, The Ivory Coast and Mauritania.

The ensemble was formed in 1970 in West Africa under the support of the government to revive folkloric music forms, fostering the arts and culture of the indigenous people. The group proved strong as it carried on these traditions, surviving defections, the rivalries of other musical ensembles by rival factions in the region, and even the unfortunate deaths of some founding members. What has allowed the group to carry on so successfully is their unique blending of traditional West African melodies and musical styles with the musical stylizations of the Western World. In the words of Artistic Director Bamaba Dembele, “We play Mandingo music. It’s part Mali, part Guinea, part Cote d’Ivoire; in short, it is West African music.”

The Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa has gained great notoriety around the world and in their respective home countries for their unique fusion of contemporary themes with traditional folklore, song and dance. In Europe, the Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa has become known to lovers of Sahel music. The Ensemble has performed many concerts in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and the Antilles. The famous singer Oumou Sangare started her professional career with this ensemble, as did Toumany Diabate, the prince of Kora. “Now it’s the young who have come with new inspiration for the music,” says artistic director Dembele, “we used to always play praise songs and ballads. Now we leave out the praise songs and add music that makes people move, that’s how we conquered Europe and the US.”

Their music now combines various African music styles — Congolese soukous nudges West African Mandingo, reggae meets latin. Overall an explosion of sound greets dancers and music lovers. While many have heard and followed the success of various ensembles from this area of the world, the Song and Dance Ensemble of West Africa sets themselves apart with their unique style, which has an authentic yet contemporary edge that makes them as hip as any international big band.

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