We are back safely. Our mission was accomplished. I am very happy with the ballet. Kulu Mele is anxious to get into rehearsal to add the other members to the choreography/story. The play has so much emotion, dance and drama.The songs and music are so beautiful. We will let everyone know when it will premiere. We had some highs & lows in Guinea but for the most part it was fantastic. We could not have accomplish this much without M’Bemba Bangoura. He made it all happen for us. We salute you MBemba.
Guinea is full of beautiful people and culture but I’m not sure if you know that Guinea is also one of the poorest countries in the world. And in Conakry, where we are staying, it is evident by the lack of human services that hinder a basic of quality of life we take for granted. I have met and talked to (through translation) people who have encouraged me to go to Kindia to see the natural beauty of Guinea, that is obscured in busy Conakry. Through a new found American friend, Nzinga from Queens, NY (now of Conakry thanks to true love), she was able to get me, Gabe and Clare on an adventure that was like a scene out of “Indiana Jones”. Nzinga’s fiance arranged a driver and an indestructible truck to manage the untamed and unpaved roadways to the waterfalls of Kindia.
Along this 3 hour excursion we first noticed how the air seemed to clear of the toxic and choking fumes of burning trash that is constant because of the nonexistence of trash removal. We drove through villages of palm thatched bungalows and huts that are peppered close to the road and way out in the distance among the heavily forested landscape. The beautiful palm trees are everywhere like weed trees in West Philly. And there are mountains on either side of the road that seem to wrap around us like roller coasters in the air. And we just kept climbing further up and in.
The small pocket communities show women and men working in the fields, hand washing clothes in buckets and streams, and the women never carry anything. Babies strapped to the back and anything and everything piled feet high on the crowns of their heads like balanced ballet dancers taking a stroll. I am amazed. Children are going to school or selling meat and oranges on the roadside. As we get closer to the waterfall, the road closes in a little more and the vegetation is higher, the road is bumpier – our pot holes pale in comparison to what this driver had to navigate.
We enter the grounds of Kindia’s waterfalls and it is managed by an elder selling entrance tickets. We roll out of the truck to a canopy of trees, roots and bamboo that are jurasic (not kidding) and I hear the falls. The water poured in a hush of sky showers that fell from a stone cliff about 70 feet high or higher (don’t quote me). It was so lush and beautiful. Ferns, odd plants, petite purple flowers sprung from waxy green leaves, pools of cool water between drenched boulders that lead to streams and massive rocks to climb the cliff. Everything is cool and wet. As Gabe captured this incredible beauty on video and digital photos, Clare an experienced hiker, began the trek up the cliff wall and I followed her to the edge of a very high landing (yipes). I sat for a while under the cool cliff looking out at the branches of tall trees with the falls on either side of me and I listened and I breathed and breathed and I thanked Oludumare (Yoruba sky God) for bringing me to one of Guinea’s most beautiful treasures…for bringing to the other beauty of Guinea.
Sunday – Kulu Mele will be in Kindia too!
Kulu Mele fully inhabited the role of cultural ambassador last night, performing at the home of U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Raspolic. The company musicians, including founder Baba Crowder on his newly purchased balafon, played the Yankadi and Macaru rhythms of the SuSu and Temne people. Kulu Mele elicited several rounds of applause from the invite-only crowd. The company shared the program with Les Marvee, a local dance and drum ensemble composed of artists from Les Ballet Africans and Ballet Joliba, Guinea’s two foremost dance companies.
Most of the evening’s applause was spontaneous. But Eddie Smallwood and Ali Wilkie egged the audience into clapping along as they closed Kulu Mele’s portion of the program with a comedic hip-hop showdown. Talking about the popping and locking later, Kulu Mele drummer Omar Harrison commented, “It’s right that we showed them hip hop. Hip hop’s our culture.”
What makes dance directly represent a culture, particular American culture, is a difficult question to answer. In the sixties and seventies when the U.S State Department sponsored many American dance companies’ international tours, everything from ballet to modern to traditional Native American dance appeared in theatres around the world. Kulu Mele’s program managed to represent a broad range of American investments in dance: honoring American dance’s African roots and showcasing a bit of the choreography that unfolds every afternoon and night in clubs and on sidewalks all over the U.S.