30 March 2012

Africa: Drumming Drumming Drumming

An attractive mix of tradition and youth, the Yekatoy Allah Bolo Company is focused around to traditional African music. During the sixteenth edition of the National Culture Week of Burkina Faso, these young Burkinabe and Malians artists showed how they use their artistic skills to help disadvantaged children.

Art, dance, traditional music and theatre are what brings together these young artists, aged between 18 and 31. The oldest, Salia Sanou Junior, left a career in soccer for the traditional drum. Salia has since worked with many great names of Burkinabe traditional music. At 31, the art of percussion has no secrets for the one who was nicknamed djembé karamogo (drum master) by fellow artists and friends.

The early years were full of difficulties and challenges for Salia and his friends. "Our beginnings were very difficult. We were initially taught by Burkinabe's first percussionist, Adama Konaté. After Adama's death, we continued learning with the Kassibaga and Mougnou companies". After touring the globe with numerous stars of the Burkinabe traditional music, Salia decided to start his own company, "Yekatoy Allah Bolo", which means "Let's surrender to God" in the local Bambara dialect.

Internationally renowned

Since its creation in 2004, the Yekatoy Allah Bolo Company has performed on several tours in Africa and Europe. The secret of these young artists is their wide repertoire. The percussionists of the group have mastered all types of African rhythms: Malian, Senegalese, Ivorian and Nigerian.

"They are jolly and professional, and we like easy entertainment: music that is suited to all occasions. They will play whatever rhythm you want, with ease. They even play with European artists", explains Bassori Traoré, one of the leaders of the Ivorian community in Burkina Faso. Bassori regularly invites the Yekatoy Allah Bolo Company to entertain the guests at Ivorian parties and celebrations.

Sharing skills

One of Salia's goals is to transfer his skills to the younger generation, more specifically the orphans and disadvantaged children. He has transformed part of his front yard into a theatre and dance school. Besides dancing, the children also learn how to make traditional musical instruments. "At the Company, we teach percussion and n'goni (traditional string instrument).

We also make traditional musical instruments. Many people come from Europe to learn to play traditional instruments. We have trained people from Switzerland, America and Canada. Some are even teaching those instruments in their own countries today", proudly says Salia Sanou Junior.

Lorenzo Viale is one of those European learners: "I am currently studying music at a university in Italy and I was looking for a company to familiarise myself with African music. When it comes to tempo and harmony, everything is different. The first time I listened to their music, I didn't understand anything. It is very different from what we learn at university in Italy. Now I manage to understand some songs."

Percussion as a way out

On the request of various organisations and directors of primary schools, Salia and his company tour the Bobo Dioulasso district to teach children the art of percussion. "We have been going around schools for three years now. Some children even changed schools in order to continue their initiation to theatre and percussion", explains Salia. Learning the art of percussion is a way out for many children who are unable to finish school.

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