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Bandan Koro traces the roots of modern music back to Africa

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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.

Museum honors pioneering Congressman

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The Frontiers of Flight Museum hosted its 13th annual gala the evening of April 27. The Gala honored veteran Congressman Ralph Hall with the George E. Haddaway Award for Achievement in Aviation. Congressman Hall, Representative from Texas’ 4th Congressional District, was honored for his years of service on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. The evening hosted several notable Texas politicians, including former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Congressman Sam Johnson.

“Congressman Hall has spent 30 years up there on the Science, Space and Technology committee, he’s worked as the chairman of it, every year since the Apollo program NASA has had to fight every year for their budget, and Congressman Hall has been one of those people whose been a true believer in what comes out of the space program and what it does for the economy,” said Walter Cunningham, former Apollo astronaut and honorary chair for this year’s gala.

Hall was one of several former NASA astronauts in attendance at the event, which also included a special address from two astronauts currently residing on the ISS. The museum, located on land adjacent to Love Field, features many programs and exhibits highlighting the history of the space program, including the Apollo space capsule Hall piloted decades ago.

“Everything on it is the same—including the vehicle itself—except they took the couches out of this one to use on one of the other spacecraft,” Hall said.

“Our mission at the museum is to inspire, educate and motivate the next generation, so when the kids come through the museum and see great American heroes and the aircraft and the programs, they’re going to want to go back and do great things with their life,” said Cheryl Sutterfield-Jones, President and CEO of the Frontiers of Flight Museum.

Despite high profile appearances and the granting of the annual George E. Haddaway award, the evening also served as a fundraiser for the museum.

“All the funds raised go to support our educational programs. Tonight we’ll get many new people who have not been here before, and they’ll want to come back and be a part of the museum,” Sutterfield-Jones said.

Those educational opportunities are realized through the museum’s “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs that reach more than 10,000 students each year,” according to a press release issued by the museum.

The fund raising and education initiatives come at a contentious moment for the aerospace community, when federal support for NASA and other human spaceflight initiatives is at a record low and math and science education flags. In response to mounting public debt and various domestic and foreign crises, many in Congress and across the country see NASA as a frivolous expenditure. NASA’s 2014 budget includes a 200 million dollar cut to planetary science projects, a move that would force NASA to cancel a mission to Jupiter according to one NASA spokesperson. Nevertheless, Cunningham and others with the museum see tangible value in space exploration.

“I look at it as really what it’s doing for the future,” said Cunningham.

Frightmare Weekend thrills fans

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Frightmare connects horror fans with their favorite people: living, dead and undead.

Texas Frightmare Weekend took over the Hyatt Regency DFW from May 3-5, delighting horror fans with vendors, panels, film screenings and celebrity guests. The three day event featured guest appearances by stars like Gary Busey and Danny Trejo, as well as horror and cult favorites including Sean Patrick Flannery from Boondock Saints and The Walking Dead cast members Jon Bernthal and Vincent M. Ward.

“The panels here are great. It’s not even about getting a signature, it’s just talking to them and getting to know their experience with films, getting to talk to them on a person to person basis,” said Trace Burnside, self professed horror fan and convention attendee.

“I think I got into it because my mom wouldn’t let me watch it at first, and I wanted to [upset her],” he said.

Frightmare attracted fans from across the state and the country who wanted to celebrate their love of the horror genre. Some fans took the opportunity to show their affection more ostentatiously, with costumes, makeup and body art – a tattoo artist even occupied one of the booths.

Read the whole article in the May, 11 edition of the Rambler.

Barefoot Festival brings Emmanuel Jal to SMU

SMU students and faculty partnered to put on Barefoot on the Boulevard, a festival of music and environmental advocacy on April 6. Emmanuel Jal headlined the event. Jal is a South Sudanese rapper, a former child soldier and humanitarian advocate, who blended the program’s environmental theme with his own message of peace.

“If our environment is not taken care of, it is going to affect all of us. And that’s why I have come to support you guys,” Jal said.

In 1980, Jal was born in South Sudan, now an independent nation but then part of greater Sudan. When the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out he tried to escape to Ethiopia, but was recruited by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He was seven years old at the time.

“The war reached the core of my family. Ninety-eight percent of everyone in South Sudan lost somebody, that’s over 2.8 million dead. All my aunties died in the war,” said Jal.

Later he managed to escape to Waat, a village that was home to many SPLA deserters and Emma McCune, a British aid worker, who helped turn his life around. He also started listening to American Hip Hop.

“There was Tupac, there was Run DMC, there was Lost Boys, a lot of American artists,” he said. He has since gone on to become an internationally renowned hip hop artist.

“I was just doing it for fun [at first], and I was trying to raise funds to put ex-child soldiers into school in Nairobi, but I didn’t know I was creating a career for myself, so accidentally without my plans or wishing to be what I’m doing it ended up becoming a career,” Jal said.

He is also the founder of We Want Peace, a campaign to persuade people that world peace is a realistic possibility.

“We Want Peace is a simple way of saying, when you put a spotlight in a dark place, the evil can perform less,” said Jal, speaking of the organization.

Though his message was unalloyed positivity, Jal’s music was honest about his sometimes brutal experiences. One lyric reads, “next was I, but Jesus heard my cry, as I was tempted to eat the rotten flesh of my comrade.” The piece is a spoken word about being tempted to resort to cannibalism to fend off starvation.

Though Jal was the headliner and a major draw, the event also featured tables from several local environmental organizations, including Texas Campaign for the Environment (TCE) and Groundwork Dallas, an initiative to improve Dallas park land and bring on-site environmental education to local schools. All proceeds from the event went to TCE.

“It’s important to get kids this age to think about environmental issues beyond putting plastic and aluminum in the recycling bin and changing the light bulbs, because college age is when they can start to think about policy changes, about voting in elections, about corporate accountability. Because this is when they have money, they have jobs, they can speak with their checkbooks like everyone else,” said Virginia Fugman, Staff Director for the Dallas office of TCE.