GETTING IN TOUCH
BY MIKE MILIARD
" Without some sort of connection to your ancestors, " says Lisa Monrose, " you’re nothing. " Monrose, director of special projects for Cambridge-based World Music, is referring to a central tenet of traditional African culture. But her point is just as resonant with modern Americans of all ethnicities — possibly because, if you go back far enough, she reminds us, " Africa is the home of all of our ancestors. " Exploring the spiritual bond with those who’ve gone before — and what they can teach those who are here today — is the aim of this weekend’s " Rhythm & Ritual II: Ancestors and Memory, " a three-day extravaganza of workshops, lectures, film, art, and dance that World Music is staging in conjunction with the Cambridge Center for Adult Education (CCAE) in Harvard Square and its environs.
It all starts Friday evening at the Harvard Film Archive, with a screening of legendary Ethiopian director Haile Gerima’s Sankofa, a film about Maafa, the African holocaust, as seen through modern eyes. Gerima himself will be there to talk with the audience after the screening. On Saturday, Gerima’s keynote address kicks off a day of panel discussions, screenings, and workshops at the CCAE. Highlights include a participatory class on the Malian Koteba ritual, which uses dance to connect people to their ancestors, and " Language and Meaning in Senegalese Drumming Traditions, " where Lamine Touré will demonstrate how griots in Senegal tell stories with percussion — communicating the words, precepts, and moral lessons of ancestors with complex and shifting rhythmic patterns. Continuing in the musical vein, that evening Salif Keita, " the Golden Voice of Africa, " graces Sanders Theatre with his inimitable vocal technique, an arresting fusion of the traditional and the modern. Sunday, CCAE plays host to another all-day event when Nigerian-native Wande Abimbola, professor of African religions at Boston University, oversees a comprehensive workshop on Egungun, ceremonies of Yoruban ancestor worship. Complete with masks, chants, and the tasting of food offerings, the day of hands-on learning will eventually coalesce into a procession through the streets of Harvard Square.
Last year, World Music and CCAE joined forces on a similar, smaller-scale series that dealt with the culture and influence of the African diaspora. It was a huge success. " People were grateful for an event that brought together groups who normally don’t come together: community members, scholars, religious figures, and artists, " Monrose says. The idea this year is to continue to build on the goodwill that emerged from that experience. In addition to redressing the fact that " people don’t necessarily realize how Africa is responsible for so much of our culture, " Monrose says, Rhythm & Ritual hopes to immerse participants in new ways of thinking, to impel them to reconnect with their own forebears and allow the stories and lessons of the past to change how they engage in the present. While these techniques may come from a different time and a different place, they have much to offer in the often-chaotic here-and-now.
" The practitioners say we can call on our ancestors for help in all kinds of situations. They are intermediaries for us to the greater powers, " she says. " And sankofa is an African word that means ‘you must go to the past, and understand the past, in order to go forward.’ I would say that’s very applicable for today’s world. "
Rhythm and Ritual takes place October 18, 19, and 20 in various Harvard Square locations. Fees range from $15 for the Friday-night screening only to $140 for the full conference. Call (617) 547-6789 or visit www.ccae.org or www.worldmusic.org for schedules, locations, and registration forms.
Issue Date: October 17 - 24, 2002
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