Entertainment

Dance to the sounds of West Africa

Alpha Yaya Diallo (centre) and his West African Summit headline the African Dance Party Saturday Feb. 9 at Paddlewheel Park Hall in Okanagan Landing, as part of the Vernon Winter Carnival. - Photo submitted
Alpha Yaya Diallo (centre) and his West African Summit headline the African Dance Party Saturday Feb. 9 at Paddlewheel Park Hall in Okanagan Landing, as part of the Vernon Winter Carnival.
— image credit: Photo submitted

Winter Carnival is giving you reason to kick off your shoes and feel the rhythmic pulse through your feet.

And no, it’s not due to a herd of sauropods trampling through town for the Prehistoric-themed event, it’s because Alpha Yaya Diallo is coming back to town.

The multi-Juno award winning, Guinea-born guitarist-singer is returning to Carnival as part of the Komasket Music Festival’s (KMF)  African Dance Party, taking place at Paddlewheel Park Hall on Feb. 9.

He will be bringing his eight-piece band, the West African Summit, and if you attended the dance Diallo performed for at the 2007 Carnival, you know that dance is the key word.

After a year break the KMF crew are making plans for the 2013 festival and this show serves as a fundraiser while continuing to bring the community together under the warm Komasket banner, said Devaki Thomas, KMF co-artistic director

“The Komasket Music Festival has worked with Alpha Yaya Diallo in the past but has yet to bring him to Komasket Park for the festival. This show is hopefully a prelude to his KMF debut,” she said, adding, “The legendary artistic atmosphere of Komasket dances is popular with Okanagan crowds and the Komasket crew is bringing this show home to its familiar and well-loved Paddlewheel Hall.”

Recognized as one of Canada’s leading music performers in any genre, the Vancouver artist’s world beat is a fusion of African rhythms, Spanish Flamenco, American jazz and blues, and anything else he deems right for the occasion.

Also a member of the African Guitar Summit, along with Madagascar Slim, the Mighty Popo and Pa Joe among others, Diallo has carved himself a place on the world music scene, bringing the West African sounds of his childhood to Canada and beyond.

“Since coming to Canada, I have dreamed about bringing together both the dance and music of Guinea to the stage; something that explodes on stage with energy and colour and now is the time,” said Diallo. “It’s very interesting to share my love of music and learn from others. If you are a musician, you want people to hear your music. That’s what I’m looking for all the time.”

Diallo first picked up the guitar and percussion at age 12, and began jamming with his friends at school, later becoming the lead guitarist in his university’s band.

His father worked as a doctor-surgeon, frequently moving the family around Guinea, so Diallo was exposed to a variety of cultures and musical traditions from the Malenke, Sousou and his own Foulani people.

He also spent time in neighbouring Senegal, where his mother has relatives, and picked up the popular and powerful mbalax rhythm there – as well as influences from Cape Verde and the Caribbean.

“I was always studying and playing,” said Diallo in a past interview with The Morning Star. “(However,) I did get into trouble as my dad didn’t want me to play music... I was lucky people accepted me.”

Diallo originally came to Canada in 1991 as a member of the European-based band Fatala, who recorded for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. At the end of his contract, he decided to stay in Vancouver.

“It’s a beautiful city. At that time, I didn’t know it was the best place in Canada,” he said. “As I spent more time here, it became easier for me. I became comfortable communicating through music.”

Diallo didn’t waste any time putting a band together, and gathered musicians from Africa and Canada to play his brand of traditional and contemporary world sounds.

The musician often returns to Africa to visit his family and to stay in close connection with his roots.

“Things have changed. Many of my friends are now in Europe. There are new people growing up there now who don’t know me well. But I do hear my music on the radio once and a while,” he said.

In 2007, Diallo was the only North American artist approached by the United Nations to create a work for a compilation CD that would further raise awareness around the issues of HIV/AIDS, hunger, and debt relief in Africa. The finished piece, Imme Africa/ Get Up Africa, is a tribute and a rallying call to the potential and responsibility of the people of that continent.

In a ground-breaking performance project, Diallo has also taken the experience of his music to a new and even more exciting level with the creation of the West African Summit, described as 90 minutes of pure entertainment —a dynamic musical journey into the irresistible rhythms and exuberant dance of Guinea, Senegal and Mali.

The summit includes acclaimed director and award-winning choreographer Alejandro Ronceria, who brings a special perspective and experience to the  project, with a celebrated background in dance, theatre and innovative multi-media productions.

Also joining Diallo are two masters of traditional African music: Naby Camara, known as the Milt Jackson of the balafon  (West African marimba), an incredible musician with an uncanny ability to become at one with the dancers with whom he performs, and a perfect counterpoint to Diallo’s guitar, while Prince Diabaté is one of the most accomplished kora (harp like-instrument with 21 strings) players performing outside of Africa today.

The band also features Thomas Ehru Niamke (drums) and Vegari Cendar (bass). They are joined by N’nato Camara and Mariama Camara, two of African music’s finest traditional dancers, known for their unique ability to bring the power and grace of West African dance to life on stages anywhere in the world.

Opening  for Diallo in Vernon is Okanagan act Bobby Bovenzi and The Rippers, a West African drumming troupe. The dance also includes vendors, a concession and a silent auction.

The Winter Carnival African Dance Party takes place Saturday, Feb. 9. Doors to Paddlewheel Park Hall, Okanagan Landing Road, open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 in advance at the Ticket Seller (549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca) or at the Bean Scene in Vernon. Children 12 and under are free.

 

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