We arrived back in upstate New York (Newburgh) at 4pm yesterday, and by that evening each of us was home safely. It was an intense two weeks in New Orleans, and an overall write-up including a LOT more photos and videos will be posted here in a few days.
The support of our friends, St. Michael's College administration and faculty, and Beverly Trask at Tulane University has been stunning and we are grateful. Final post coming soon!
What? We're performing today and leaving this afternoon? How'd that happen?
The past week has been incredibly packed. We've been assisting some local groups, playing for teacher's workshops, planning the final dance performances today (all the teachers will be sharing the traditions they taught), and yesterday we had our Habitat for Humanity performance at the Musician's Village.
Folks really seem to appreciate music here in a different way than any other place in the U.S.; the Musician's Village is 75% local artists (jazz, brass band, etc.) who were displaced by Katrina. After we played for the volunteers yesterday we took a tour through the surrounding area; the devastation is palpable even after five years. Empty, rotted, and burned out houses everywhere, even one upside down in the field where it rolled during the storm. And folks still live in the area, even in some of the damaged houses.
It was a sobering experience for the group, but we also felt good that we were given the chance to come and contribute something towards the efforts there that was well received.
Today we'll rehearse some Haitian music starting at around 11:30am, perform for the concert at 1, and then after the concert we'll load up and head out.
Since Monday we've been playing for between 6-10 hours a day (either classes or rehearsals), not including the dance classes that the guys have bravely taken with visiting artists from Cuba and the Congo! It's an intense amount of work, but we find ourselves going more and more deeply into the traditions we're representing at the festival. There hasn't been a lot of time to go out and explore but we'll have some time to do that in the coming few days.
On Sunday July 6th, we'll be heading to Congo Square to participate in a special event with artists from both the N.O. Dance Festival and local traditional ensembles called "The Spirit of Congo Square - Remembering the Ancestors." One of the local community members here explained to us that this is one of the first times, even pre-Katrina, that people representing the music and traditions from so many different African nations have been in New Orleans at the same time. Congo Square used to be a place where slaves were allowed to gather and express themselves through music and dance, perform religious ceremonies, and have their own marketplace. The organizers want to take advantage of the opportunity presented by all the musicians and dancers here by gathering and pouring libations to the ancestors and then allowing the various groups to express themselves individually through prayers, music, dance - anything goes. It will be amazing, and we'll be sure to photograph what we can.
Today, July 4th, the group plans on heading to the riverfront to catch some Zydeco music, brass band, and then fireworks from two barges on the river.
Some photos of our week of playing are below, including Dan "BBQ-Man" Klug making dinner for us one night....
We began the official classes for the New Orleans Dance Festival today. At 9am we played/watched the Haitian class, and FanFan, the lead drummer, spent some time with
the Akoma gang teaching some playing techniques for conga drum. Opportunities to work with experienced players like FanFan - especially focused time like what he offered to the students - is precious and rare. Given that this is just the first day and everyone at the festival is still finding their feet, it's clear that the learning opportunities are just as plentiful as those for teaching.
Then at 1pm we played the first Ghanaian class, which was a blast! So the music has begun and we're in a groove.
We are in two student housing facilities; Jud, Luke, Alex and Dan are down the street at one dorm, and the percussionists/dance teachers are all in another. The campus is big, still recovering in many ways from Katrina, but overall running well. Biggest bonus: a coffee house immediately across the street from both of our dorms.
We played the new Ghanaian drums last night during rehearsal, which was the first time the instruments have been played in ensemble form since they were shipped from Ghana last month. They are AMAZING and the students love them - so do I! Awal, the dance teacher from Ghana who we are playing for over the next two weeks, doesn't arrive until tomorrow (right before his first class) so we're trying to make sure the musical portion of the equation is ready to go.
Our neighbors are from Haiti, Botswana, Cuba, Zimbabwe, NYC....
Once everyone is settled in we'll post some photos! More soon....
Excellent day of driving - we pulled into the Tulane campus at about 11:15 pm and everyone is settling in. Tomorrow we have some free time before checking in with the coordinator of the festival, and then classes begin on Monday.
Photos and such from our drive will be posted tomorrow!
Hello from just south of Roanoke, VA! We pulled in after a long but fun day of driving - just want folks to know we're safe for the evening, all is well, and we are making good time. I think we're in a town in the middle of the mountains called Christiansburg; we decided to go past Roanoke in order to avoid traffic tomorrow morning when we decide to start driving again.
All the drums, luggage, and people somehow fit into the van, too!
I got T shirts for the ensemble as a surprise, which we can wear for our performances. The back is the logo you see at the top of the Akoma blog page. The phrase is in Twi langage (of the Akan people of central Ghana), a proverb translated basically as:
"Those who want to be king in the future must first learn to serve."
The front of the shirt is the name of the group, Akoma, layered over one of our master drums, called an atsimevu:
We've hit the bigtime! See article in it's entirety here.
It's been great getting so much local support - now all we have to do is get the van and start driving! Ok... well, after picking up the van, 20 drums have to be loaded in... then we need to all connect at our meeting point in NY (the group is coming out from the coast to meet me, so I'll pick them up in Newburgh)... THEN we can go.
We have a Friday, July 11 performance scheduled for the Musician's Village, and some others around town for different causes, on top of the daily festival classes. However, we'll also have plenty of time to see New Orleans - we're there during the July 4th holiday, too!
Tulane's online journal, "The Wave," did a great article on the dance festival we'll be playing at for 12 days. There is a great shot of Awal, the Ghanaian master dancer who we are supporting that week. Check it out!
We leave on June 26th for New Orleans. We'll be traveling down 87, 84, 81 and into the south - if we're lucky, the drive will go smoothly over 2 days, having us arrive late in the area on June 28th, or early the morning of the 29th if not. Into a 12 passenger van will go three sets of drums - an Ewe set, a Dagbamba set, and some hand drums from the Ga region. Also into the van will go 5 people trying to pack very conservatively! We'll be housed on the Tulane campus, and will have access to laundry and kitchen facilities so that we can keep our costs down while there.
We're still scheduling performances off campus with various groups - there will be no shortage of playing time! The link to the festival itself is at: http://nodancefestival.org.
*ring* - wow, the Addison Independent, our local newspaper, just called - they want to come over and do an article on the group and the trip to New Orleans!