Traditional Skill/Art Craft: Guinean Dance, Drumming
Years Awarded: 2014, 2018, 2020, 2022
Since age seven, Alseny Yansane has been immersed in the musical and dance tradition of his native country, Guinea, West Africa. Alseny trained and performed in many competitions as a dancer, drummer, and acrobat in the dawning of the Republic’s newly won independence from France. Historically, this was a time when art and cultural appreciation and cultivation were at an all-time high and the training that artists received was rigorous and systematic. Artists had to compete on a national level annually as a way of moving up to higher levels of artistic status. These competitions were held in the heart of Alseny’s neighborhood and attracted groups from all over Guinea who represented specific art and culture from various regions and ethnic groups.
This has given Alseny a wealth of knowledge about the history and cultural diversity behind Guinean performance arts, a solid artistic foundation, and a strong drive for excellence. Alseny has worked with some of Guinea’s most reputable performance groups, including Kemoko Sano’s Ballet Merveilles and Jean Macuely’s Ballet Sanke. In 1993, Alseny was recruited to join the most prestigious of all national groups, the world-renowned Ballet Africains. Chosen to tour with them several times, Alseny has dazzled audiences throughout the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Morocco.
APPRENTICE BIOGRAPHY - Mamadouba Papa Yansane 2014/2018/2020/2022
Mamadouba ‘Papa’ Yansane is a young traditional Guinean drummer who comes from a line of extraordinary Guinean artists and performers. He has taken part of folkloric events and cultural ceremonies for as long as he can remember and has been involved with music since early childhood. Papa has long been praised for his exceptional musical talent which he has been practicing with his father, Alseny Yansane, for the past eight years in Eugene, Oregon. Papa and Alseny have been performing on stage and co-teaching classes and workshops. Since 2020, Papa has been working with his father on the tradition of building and tuning drumheads. He now wishes to take this experience a step further by embodying the art of heading a Djembe and learning the art of building Dunduns.
Q+A WITH THE MENTOR ARTIST
Describe your traditional art.
The cultural tradition of constructing drumheads and tuning Djembes and Dunduns, the traditional drums from Guinea, is typically practiced by only the most skilled drummers to ensure that the drums that are being played have the best sound possible. Heading and tuning drums properly requires a separate skill set than that of playing drums and requires many, many hours of distinct training.
This cultural practice happens on a regular and consistent basis to ensure that the drums sound their best anytime they are being played since the drum skins' sound changes with ambient factors such as temperature and humidity as well as slack from being played. Also, over time drumheads either break, get damaged, or wear out, especially if the drum is played a lot and would require a brand-new head to be put on the instrument and tuned up.
Through my work and leadership as a professional performance drummer and dancer as well as my deep involvement in folkloric gatherings and cultural community events, I have had the opportunity to train several apprentices of the next generation in the skills for building, tuning, and maintaining professional-grade drums.
How did you come to learn this tradition?
I learned this tradition in Conakry, the capital city of Guinea as a teenager to supplement to my training in traditional drumming and dancing. My older brother gave me my initial training on how to construct drumheads and tune them. After my basic training from him I was able to enhance my technique through the process of being tasked with re-reading Djembes and Dunduns for the variety of performance and folkloric groups I was involved with, including two of my very own groups. Over the years I have perfected my technique even more through the process of working on hundreds and hundreds of different drums.
Why is this cultural tradition important to your community?
The tradition of well-constructed drumheads is a fundamental part of the drum culture from Guinea. Guinean drumming is traditionally done on a daily basis in a variety of ways that includes folkloric gatherings to celebrate weddings and baby naming ceremonies, animation of large public events, like political rallies or national conventions, entertainment for parties, and rigorous rehearsals for performance groups that travel on a national and international basis.
All of these activities rely on the elementary principle of having well-made drumheads that are properly tuned and maintained. The way an instrument sounds is crucial for heightening the interaction between members of the polyrhythmic drum orchestra, the level of response dancers have to the music and the overall experience of participants that are present during these community events. If the sound of the instruments is not of high quality, then the drumming cannot come across as powerfully and therefore the experience of the entire community will not be as sweet as if the drums' sounds are on point. Additionally, the drums from my cultural tradition are meant to be melodic as well as percussive through the combination of well-tuned instruments and proper drumming techniques.
1. Diploma from the Minister of Arts and Culture in Guinea, West Africa for exceptional work as principal dancer with repertory drum and dance company, Ballet Soleil du Afrique
2.Recruited into Ballet Sanke as principal dancer
3. Chosen for Ballet Sanke's national performance tour and intensive artist in residencies in select villages across Guinea
4. Selected to dance for Ablos Toure's music video (contemporary pop star)
5. Appointed Artistic Director for Ballet Sanke
6. Recruited into Komoko Sanu's International performance troupe, Ballets Merveilles
7. Recruited into Les Ballets Africains
8. One of five male dancers selected from fifteen members to dance in Yaya Bangoura's video (contemporary pop star)
9. Founder and artistic director of children's repertory drum and dance performance group, Ballet Munafanyi
10. Selected to travel with Les Ballets Africains to Bermuda and Morocco for international tour
11. Selected to tour US and Canada on Les Ballets Africains' international tour of Jubilee, 50 Year Anniversary of Les Ballets Africains, February-May 2004
12. One of four male dancers selected from fifteen members to dance in Fode Kouyate's video clip series for album that received national acclaim
13. Selected into elite tour group of four male dancers from entire company of 35 members for US and Canada tour July 2004
14. Selected as choreographer and principal dancer of Daramba Diabate's musical video series (contemporary pop star)
15. Co-founder and artistic director of Won Tan Nara Productions and Won Tan Nara Drum & Dance Ensemble
16. Juried into Dance for a Reason Performance 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012, and 2013
17. Awarded Oregon Arts Commission's Opportunity Grant 2010
18. Awarded Lane Arts Council's Community Arts Grant 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, & 2019
19. Awarded Lane County Tourism Grant 2011
20. Organized Eugene's First African Drum and Dance Conference, October 2011
21. Co-founder and Artistic Director of West African Cultural Arts Institute
22. Oregon Country Fair Board of Director's Grant 2015 & 2016
23. Lane County Cultural Coalistion's Cultural Opportunity Grant 2013, 2016, 2021
24. Oregon Community Foundation's Small Arts & Culture Grant 2016-2021
25. Oregon Arts Commission's Small Operating Grant 2016-2020
26. Jubilation Foundation Fellowship Recipient 2020-2021
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