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Rhythm flows in the blood

Wren Wertin
Special to the DailyHand carved masks, tapestries and pottery will be for sale at the African Tribal Art and Music Festival in Singletree on Saturday.
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Cheik Sao and the other drummers are from the Tribe of Dan. The poverty in their home village is cause for much of the younger generation to move away in search of jobs. The artisan crafts, which are passed on from parents to children, are being lost as the elders die. Sao is traveling to Vail with a selection of the arts that are produced in his village. His mission is two-fold: to raise awareness for the legacy of craftsmanship in his village, and to sell selected arts in order that a two-bedroom hospital can be built there.

He and two other drummers will be playing traditional rhythms, from the ceremonial to the commonplace. There will be two djembes and one djun-djun; a pianist will accompany them.

“The rhythm is really really hot in our bodies,” he said. “It goes through your blood. We have the angel of the drum – everyone has to learn to slap on the drum in Africa.”



Sao slaps his hand-carved djembe, a versatile drum that can be cradled by the body. He and his fellow drummers will be explaining the different songs and beats. Audience participation is key.

“And it’s up to you guys, the feeling, because your feeling translates to me, how you feel the drum,” he said.



Sao explains it’s not odd to have a pianist play traditional African music, because it’s just a fancy xylophone, which has always been a part of their musical culture.

Lai Tischer is organizing the festival, which will split the proceeds between the Tribe of Dan and the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Tischer lives in Eagle County, and is a friend of Sao.

“His grandfather and then father were chief for their tribe,” she explained. “Some of the artists are dying in their village, so the art is dying. We will have many things there, hand-carved wooden masks, figurines, furniture and tapestries. They are made from materials in the same area.”



Sao explains that his father is a humble chief; he acts as a village consul. It’s a tradition for his family. When Sao’s father dies, he or one of his brothers will become the chief. The village will decide which one.

For the past three years, Sao has spend six months every year in Arizona, trying to promote African art in order to save his village’s heritage.

“I’m living in Tucson, because the weather is good for the African,” he said, laughing. “Yeah I miss home, but I’m all the time full time in Africa because my hut is all the time in Africa. I like the people here. I’m in the community, and we’re living like African people. I don’t close my house, I can leave it open.”

The African Tribal Art and Music Festival gets going at 4 p.m. at the Singletree Community Center in Edwards, located at 1010 Berry Creek Road. For more information contact Tischer at 926-7193.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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