Community of the Beat

For one weekend, a diverse community came together in Champaign-Urbana to celebrate West African culture at the Midwest Mandeng. The festival of drum and dance involves three days of demonstrations, workshops, shopping and partying.

graphic courtesy of CU West African Drum & Dance Collective

graphic courtesy of CU West African Drum & Dance Collective

Master artists are flown in to perform and teach classes. Most of them teach techniques from Mali and Guinea. 

“They have quite the reputation each of them individually for being skilled instructors and amazing dancers so we already knew of them,” says Mara Thacker, an organizer of the festival.

There are several West African dance festivals and camps around the country with a strong network of people who attend, according to Thacker.

The CU West African Drum & Dance Collective, who puts on the Midwest Mandeng, saw that Champaign-Urbana was an attractive area.

“We do have kind of a nice central location for major cities in the Midwest and other places that also have small communities because almost everywhere in the United States, west african dance is somewhat niche compared to other kinds of dances,” says Thacker.

This  event was open to the community with two free library demonstrations, drum and dance workshops at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, and a celebration at Pizza M in Urbana. There was also a marketplace of African jewelry, clothing and gifts.

The CU West African Drum & Dance Collective has been around for seven years. It gained momentum with the involvement of dancer Djibril Camara and drummer Bolokada Conde who have both since moved away from Champaign-Urbana.

The group offers a weekly dance class with live music accompaniment and a beginner djembe class starting soon.

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