NIMBAYA! Drummers Bring Energy and Awareness to Campus

Nimbaya!, a female drum and dance company, finds the origin of its name in the traditional Guinean Nimba mask, which symbolizes a woman at her peak of power and beauty. Through deep and resounding beats, Nimbaya! presented a tribute to the beauty, strength, fertile abundance and integrity of women.

Andover hosted the Nimbaya! group for the greater part of last week. The group’s visit included workshops with students and various smaller performances.

Nimbaya!’s visit culminated with its performance last Friday night in Cochran Chapel.

In addition to providing the audience with a taste of Guinean culture, Nimbaya!’s performance raised awareness to issues in Guinea and around the world.

Nimbaya! “is a daring response to taboos stretching back thousands of years,” according to Andover’s press release for the Nimbaya! ensemble.

The female members play the djembe, an instrument that was historically reserved for male players in Western Africa.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, current troupe member Seregbè Conde said, “Our message is that we want to tell Guinean women, all African women, that we can’t just stay as we are. Women need to do everything men do, fight for everything like men. For you, overseas, we want to give a true image of Guinea, and of our culture.”

The group of young women, made up of Aicha Conde, Mamadama Soumah, Mamadama Sylla, M’mah Sylla, Aminata Camara, Fatoumata Camara, Salematou Keita and Conde, is currently on an international tour to address the issue of female genital mutilation (FGM).

FGM is a violation of an individual’s rights to physical and mental health. As victims of FGM, the women of the group speak out to stop this practice in their hometown and around the globe.

Reflecting this message, Nimbaya! opened Act One with a scene called “FGM-Excision-Soli (Coastal Region of Guinea)” with clear, ringing voices, a colorful xylophone and drums and swift dance movements.

In one particularly powerful moment, the group shouted “ATO! Ayendimina!” which means, “Stop! It’s hurting me!”

“I [was] very moved by their performance because they really tried hard to promote the banning of FGM, and their dancing and drumming was very inspirational and memorable,” said Stephanie Huang ’14.

The next few acts continued to present a diverse range of scenes and messages.

“Solo Balaphone” underlined the necessity of stopping drug and alcohol abuse, while “Djeliyakan,” “Doubadjabi,” “Solo Sangban” and “Krin” embodied the Highland and Coastal Regions of Guinea and the Forest Region of Guinea in music.

As each woman sang, she drummed on an enormous drum, producing rapid rhythms and a prevailing sound.

The Nimbaya! performers rotated between drumming simultaneously in a line and performing solo pieces.

Each artist had the spotlight for a few minutes, and some performers somersaulted on the ground and over their drums.

Many acts embodied the message of gender equality the Nimbaya! performers sought to convey.

In one entertaining act, a man started out drumming, but the Nimbaya! female drummers quickly pushed him away and took over the rhythms, illustrating that not only can men play the djembe, so too can women.

Another piece, “Moussoloule,” was a call for women around the world, according to the performance’s program.

“Doundoumba” and “Tambour,” featured dances that celebrated the strength of women and men.

Many pieces also depicted village life and stories in Guinea.

Accompanied by animated dance and steady drumming, “Sinte,” a song of the Baga people, told a story of two youngsters who want to marry, but face their parents’ disapproval.

In between songs, the Nimbaya! performers acted out village life by changing from one traditional colorful garment of clothing to another and even standing on their drums in certain scenes.

The audience erupted into cheers every time the group finished an act and applauded profusely for them every chance they got.

“I think they have incredible energy, and they are fantastic performers. I liked how their performances told a story and how they get across the message that they’re trying to send through their shows,” said Sophie Landay ’14.

To conclude the show by physically connecting with the audience, the Nimbaya! performers invited the audience to participate in the final two acts of the performance, “Solo Sangban” and “Yole.”

Diane Moore, Instructor and Chair of Philosophy and Religious Studies, said, “The different ways to communicate have been extraordinary because in spite of language barriers, the opportunity to really connect with these women because of their energy and extraordinary generosity has been really life changing.”

“They are pioneers in fighting female genital mutilation, still practiced in parts of the world, and in education, for girls and boys. They are trying to help found a school through their work […] we are extraordinarily lucky to have them with us,” she said.