Audience members at Irving Arts Center were delighted when Bandan Koro gave a performance of authentic West African music and dance on May 4.
Bandan Koro, which in the West African language Malinke means “under the tree,” is a local performing arts group that promotes awareness and respect for West African culture in the DFW area through education and performance. Their performance Saturday used music and dance to tell the story of the African Diaspora, the diffusion of African culture in the new world.
“The intent of this performance is to show that there’s a connection between what happened in Africa years and years ago and what’s happening in America today,” said Tony Browne, founder and director of Bandan Koro. “Those rhythms and that spirit never died, it came with us from Africa. The performance is meant to show that even though today there seem to be some things that aren’t tied to Africa, there’s actually a much closer connection than a lot of people understand.”
Bandan Koro brought this connection to the audience with performances ranging from traditional rites of passage using Djembe and slit drums to a contemporary DJ playing classic Hip Hop and Justin Timberlake. The performance told the story of a journey from the homeland to the new world, stopping to highlight slave music and Capoeira. Bandan Koro also incorporated the distinctive tendency of African music to encourage audience participation. At several points the audience was invited to stand up and dance, or to stand up and be recognized for their place in the community.
Bandan Koro drew attention to parallels scholars have long noted between traditional West African music and contemporary pop music rooted in those African traditions. The syncopated beats of Rock, Hip Hop and Jazz have more in common with the danceable rhythms of West African music than with any European source, and all came out of the African American community.
None of this is news to Browne, who brings substantial academic experience to Bandan Koro. Browne founded Bandan Koro in 2008, hoping that his experience studying West African culture and art first hand could be used to create a lively, authentic show.
“I’d always had an interest in African music and dance and I studied it overseas and also had the chance to study it while I was in college, so I developed a passion for it and moving to Dallas ten years ago or so I got involved with all the different groups that were playing,” Browne said.
“We have some shorter shows that we do, but we always try to incorporate dialogue to make sure to educate people about the culture,” said Adrian Templeton, founding member of the company. “We all have a love for African dance and African Diaspora.”
The show is a labor of love, according to Adrian Templeton, but one they intend to continue.
“The hardest part is pulling all the various components together, you have the dialogue, the costume changes, the performance, and you have to pull all those various elements into alignment. That’s not an easy feat,” Templeton said.