by Elana Spivack
The Dafra Kura Band’s Monday drumming workshop exemplified the ability of music and dance to transcend language barriers. Led by Boubacar Djiga, a member of the Olivier Tarpaga-helmed group from Burkina Faso, the workshop took place on Monday at the Shaffer Dance Studio.
While the djembe-playing instructor Djiga spoke French, the meaning did not seem to be lost on the participants, who clapped along with him. During their visit, Tarpaga and six other band members have also been appearing in various classes, from ethnomusicology to beginning French, and will perform a concert tonight at 7 p.m. in Rosse Hall.
Tarpaga, a master musician and choreographer, believes all hard work can be done joyfully. Perhaps that explains why he has had such widespread success, and why his various groups tour internationally.
Tarpaga started Dafra Drum in 1995 in his native Burkina Faso to showcase the music of African villages. In 2011, he began Dafra Kura Band; Kura means “new,” and Tarpaga created a new group to express the sweet, calmer sounds of the villages rather than the high-energy cities. “People have seen my work several times and … I want to touch that same audience differently,” Tarpaga said. “Africa has two faces. We have the village Africa and you have the city Africa.”
The drumming workshop arranged all participants, including President Sean Decatur, in a large circle, thumping along with the pulse. Within the greater cacophony, one could discern everyone’s individual sounds, like clapping hands or banging drums.
Marc Ferraro ’17 participated in the workshop as well as a dance class taught by band member Adonis Nébié. “They were both just a joy to do,” Ferraro said. “His [dance style] was very ferocious. … A lot of it was letting go of what we already knew about the way we dance here at Kenyon.”
Tarpaga has choreographed an elaborate dance piece called Declassified Memory Fragment, which includes a full stage set, lighting and original music. It will make its U.S. debut at the end of September in Pittsburgh. This work focuses on political turmoil throughout Africa, particularly as countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe overturned entrenched presidents. Much of this work is inspired by Tarpaga’s experience. At age two, Tarpaga lived through a coup in Burkina Faso, and would experience four more in 33 years, one as recently as last year. “I can’t forget that,” he said. “In 1981, [it’s] still in my head. ’82, I remember. ’83, everything. ’87, I almost got killed. So I’ve been in those situations.”
He believes his role as a dancer carries with it a moral requirement. “As a dancer, you have the responsibility in your society to say what people can’t say,” he said. Dancers must “say what the journalist won’t have the courage to say. Journalists get killed all the time.” Professor of Dance Balinda Craig-Quijada, also chair of the department, said Kenyon was happy to bring back Tarpaga, who has taught at Kenyon as a visiting assistant professor of dance three different semesters in 2010, 2012 and 2013. “I think all of [Tarpaga’s] work tends to be emotionally charged,” Craig-Quijada said. “What he offers is a real contrast to what we tend to do at Kenyon, which tends to be more abstract, or music visualizations. He is really not afraid to make a strong statement.”