Dance and music in Africa has been a source of communication, religious practice, ceremony, and celebration since ancient times. In many parts of Africa, the polyrhythmic music played by an ensemble of drummers sets traditional dance and music apart from other dance forms. The music that the drummers play is actually a multitude of rhythms that fit together like a puzzle, creating an audio illusion that it is one rhythm. An experienced dancer, with an ear trained to hear the individual pieces within the whole, creates movements that align with these distinctive parts of the rhythm. By dancing to the different pieces of this musical puzzle, a traditional dancer interprets the rhythm of the drummers in movement. This complex game of rhythm and movement is the heart of traditional West African dance.
Traditions are vital to the fabric of a community as they define who people are and where they came from. West African folkloric music and dance have historically been an important tradition in African societies, but with the rapid pace of globalization, Africa– like other parts of the world– is starting to lose many of its ancient practices. This is of great concern as the disappearance of traditional music and dance means the loss of the ancient conversation between the dancer and the drummer, along with community identity and historical significance. Since little is being done to protect the rich tapestry of West African music and dance, Souleymane “Solo” Sana founded Kono Gnaga, a local Malian-based NGO to assist in the preservation of this beautiful art form.
Kono Gnaga’s mission is to not only preserve traditional dance and music, but to keep it alive for generations to come by using the culture itself to create opportunities for local West African artists and assist communities in Mali. Kono Gnaga achieves this mission through its three objectives: cultural preservation, arts education, and arts for development. While projects are currently based in Mali, Kono Gnaga’s long range goal is to follow with branches in other parts of West Africa. Learn more about Kono Gnaga’s mission and work HERE.