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Theyve Got the Beat
African Fte celebrates traditional African drumming and dancing

click to enlarge Let the rhythm move you  Dinwoodies students - prepare for African Fte
  • Let the rhythm move you Dinwoodies students prepare for African Fte

When Stuart Dinwoodie talks about his upcoming show, African Fte, his enthusiasm and energy shines. We sit outside of the downtown La Baguette on a beautiful spring afternoon as a steady flow of people pass us by. Many stop to say hello and, whether they are good friends or neighborhood acquaintances, the laid-back Dinwoodie gives each a gracious smile and an open ear. Then after a few minutes, they continue on their way, with a little bit more of a bounce -- and information about the show.

That same infectious energy takes over again, late Friday night at drum rehearsal. At this particular rehearsal, there are 11 drummers drumming -- four playing djmbes (large hourglass-shaped drums) and seven playing doun douns (large freestanding drums that have a deep, booming sound). The energy in the room is incredibly focused, everyone concentrating on their drums and their rhythms. Yet they all seem to be riding one collective vibe. And though the room is hot and the students are exhausted after each 30-minute jam, they keep going, well into the night, feeding off the energy.

Led and encouraged by Dinwoodie, members from two of his African drumming classes are rehearsing for the upcoming African Fte, a unique production that features seven different African drumming, music and dance ensembles. The performance lineup includes a mixture of local drummers and dancers as well as some very well-known figures in the African drumming world -- some from as close as Albuquerque and Durango, some from as far away as Mali and Guinea. In addition to the drummers, the local Sankofa African dancers will perform, backed by booming rhythms of the doun douns.

There will also be some softer music, including a performance on the Kora, a 21-string harp from West Africa and one of the more difficult instruments in the world to master. There will also be traditional Zimbabwe-style music, featuring the mbira.

"In French, the word fte means celebration," Dinwoodie explains. (French is the predominant language in the African country of Senegal, where Dinwoodie first studied.) "And that's definitely what this is going to be. In Africa, coming together, singing and dancing is a community gathering. So this is going to be a mixture between a party and a show. There's going to be great music and dance, vendors, food, beer and door prizes," including drums and passes to The Sport Climbing Center.

If you're one of those folks who thinks of hippie drum circles when African drumming comes to mind, think again. After hearing and watching Dinwoodie's students rehearse, it is clear that this is no hippie drum circle.

Dinwoodie, who has been studying the art of African drumming seriously for 10 years now, studied in Senegal and Guinea, and is currently planning a trip to Mali in the fall. Anxious to share his knowledge and inspire others, he teaches drumming classes around town and at Colorado College, where the courses are part of CC's Ethnic Musicology curriculum. When he began teaching at Colorado College three years ago, he had only one class with seven students. Now, he teaches three classes each semester and has over 30 students. Clearly, through his passion for African drumming, Dinwoodie has inspired his students and cultivated a small but thriving scene in the Springs.

One of these students is Bubba Snyder, a member of Dinwoodie's Colorado Springs doun doun class. Both he and his wife became interested in African drumming about three years ago through a mutual friend in Boulder. They commuted to Boulder for classes, until someone told them about Dinwoodie.

"That was three years ago," says Snyder. "We've been in Stuart's class ever since. This is going to be our fifth performance with his class and I still get such a huge high out of doing it. You get caught up in the energy and the rhythm, and, really, there's nothing like it.

"It is a fabulous diversion to life," he continues. "But it also requires a great deal of focus, which is what I really love about it."

Carrie Staller, a junior at CC and a member of Dinwoodie's advanced djmbe class, shares similar sentiments. "I sometimes have a hard time quieting my mind. I've tried exploring meditation, but with drumming I get very focused. I'm never more focused than when I'm actually drumming."

Staller, who last year spent a month in Guinea studying dance and drumming, attributes much of her dedication and motivation to Dinwoodie. And like Snyder, she foresees drumming as always being a part of her life. "Stuart has a presence and he's a great leader. I think he has really brought drumming into the community and inspired a lot of people."

As Dinwoodie sees it, that's exactly what African Fte is about: bringing performance into the community and bringing the community together.

"Our show is about getting a collective energy together ... to create a vortex of positive energy. And it's also a chance for students to show off what they've learned. They work really hard; friends and family should have a chance to see what they've been learning and working toward."

A native of Colorado and a Palmer High School graduate, Dinwoodie has seen the ebb and flow of culture here in the Springs. "There's actually quite a bit of diversity here," says Dinwoodie. "People coming together to make music and sing and dance is good. Any show I do -- it's like a healing ceremony. So what I hope people come away from the show with, is the understanding that we are a community here. No matter color, or anything else we have let become a boundary. It's all about participation."


African Fte
Manitou City Hall, 606 Manitou Ave.
Fri., May 4, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15, available at Toons Records and Videos, Barracuda Bazaar, The Guinea Pigg, Celebration and at the door.
For more information, call 329-0547.


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