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ISSUE 120 VOL 5 PUBLISHED 10/27/2006

Sidiki Condé educates and inspires through dance and song

By Charity Hall
Contributing Writers

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dittmann’s Studio One was full of the unique rhythms and energies of West African music the evening of Thursday, Oct. 12, as Sidiki Condé and his partner, Balla Kouyaté, performed for a large and captive audience. Condé is a native of Guinea and Kouyaté a native of Mali, both countries in West Africa. Condé’s stop at St. Olaf came in the midst of a two-month tour of the state with the support of VSA Arts Minnesota, a non-profit organization dedicated to making arts available and accessible to Minnesotans with all types of disabilities.

The concert began with an introduction from Amie Pence, the VSA Arts Minnesota Education Coordinator. Kouyaté and Condé then entered the space, Kouyaté on foot and Condé in his wheelchair. Without a word, they began to drum, and the rhythm and strength of the music was immediately contagious. Jenna Ingersoll ’08 said, “I couldn’t help but move to [the] music. It was very energetic.”

The performers introduced the audience to their instruments with short, powerful and rhythmic demonstrations. Condé played a “djembe,” a drum of West African origin designed to play three tones, while Kouyaté used a “bala,” or “balafon,” a 21-tone gourd instrument similar to a xylophone.

The highlight of the performance came at a set point in the second song when Condé gracefully slid from his wheelchair, balanced himself with the strength of his arms and shoulders, folded his legs neatly under his body and began to dance. His hands beat out rhythms on the floor as if he were playing a drum, and his entire body moved with the searing energy of the music. Although each movement demanded immense strength, Condé performed every turn, jump, spin and inversion with elegance and ease.

Condé felt called to sing and dance professionally after he lost the use of his legs in an unexplained accident at the age of 14. “I was running one day on my way home from school, fell down and couldn’t get back up,” he said.

Although he has never regained the use of his legs, he sees his physical disability as an opportunity to serve and represent others. In 1986 he founded a music and dance ensemble, called “Message de Espoir” (The Message of Hope) and with it toured West Africa to raise awareness and change perceptions of individuals with disabilities. He came to the United States in 1998 to continue educating audiences about the challenges disabled individuals experience.

Condé takes his role as an educator very seriously. At the performance, he took time after each piece to translate the original lyrics, all of which addressed the challenges and issues faced by disabled individuals. One of the songs was written specifically for disabled individuals and encouraged them to be happy with themselves the way they are, regardless of physical or mental disabilities. Another song reminded us all not to “minimize disabled people.”

The performance showed that Condé takes his call to serve and educate audiences worldwide very personally. His passion for his mission was evident in his words, dancing and music. Expressing her appreciation for Condé and Kouyaté’s willingness to reach out and share their culture with everyone, Carol Bugge ’08 said, “It was a personable and real experience.”

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