In 2002, I had the great opportunity to change my life and open my heart. Traveling to Africa was about the farthest thing from my mind, but a friend convinced me that I could do it. In December 2002, we landed in Conakry. It all happened so fast!
I am a musician and have played percussion since the age of 4. Having studied at our nations top conservatories and teaching music and all forms of percussion, here I was waking up in Cosa, a village not far from the Guinean capital. Not knowing that video was not alowed, I recorded that day of our first drumming class with the reknowed master djembefola, Famoudou Konaté while he introduced us to his music and the music of Guinea. It was an unbelievable moment for all 25 students who were attending. It was awesome!
To really learn the djembe and the dunun drums and the music of the Malinké, Fulani and Sousou you simply must open your heart as well as your ears. You must quiet the mind and ‘grow’ the ears. You watch, you copy, you keep trying and believe you can do this! And you can.
All the while, there are very poor people everywhere. Millions of children without enough food, clothes... no electricity, no healthcare and a smattering of hospitals that turn them away because they can’t pay. Sometimes the hospitals themselves are not clean and it's better not to go. They often don’t even seek out the hospital care. They have their African medicine that is very powerful, as well. But sometimes a western schooled doctor seems to be needed. Medicines are needed for a simple headache to more conplicated conditions as malaria. The costs are not a lot but if nobody has money, they cannot get the medicine and they will suffer and sometimes, manytimes ...die.
The Guinea Fund
The Guinea Fund was set up in October 2006 in preparation for my trip to Guinea in the winter of 2007.
I travel to Guinea once a year in order to study the music of drumming with Famoudou Konaté and other master drummers, dancers and griots. On a previous trip to Guinea in 2003/2004, I saw signs of deterioration in the conditions of what you might call the "lower-middle class" segment of the population. Those impressions hit me as I stepped off the plane at the Conakry Airport. The more people I met, the sadder the faces were and my sense of white, western shame increased.
I was very, very saddened by what I saw, but saw no way to help improve the situation. I just helped people as I could. Then, in 2005 I got an opportunity and took action in helping a family in Guinea. A friend of mine who was very sick spent 3 weeks in a hospital with no way to get out because her family did not have enough money. So I paid the bill and she survived, and the family was grateful. That was an eye-opening experience for me.
I had never given that kind of monetary assistance before. I saw how much that money changed things for the whole family, and became inspired to try to do more for them and for other families in need.
The only 'costly' thing I had done before that was to help my new freind and master drummer, Sayon Camara, who came to me with a problem. He needed to put a door on a house he was trying to live in but just didn't have a way to get this door. So I helped him buy a metal door and have it installed. In a much needed move, he made the switch to his newer place and was able to sleep well. When you help an African with money, they often show you they did what they said they were going to do with it and Sayon brought me to the house to see. It was very clean and moderate and he was very proud. He was also sad that I had to give money but I certainly did not see it that way. He was a wonderful man whom I didn't exepect to ever forget. Funny, over 10 years later Sayon reminded me of this good deed and I remembered it like it was yesterday.
As I planned for my next trip, I decided that I would begin a small venture to help Guinean people in need. Alone, I could only do so much and help only a few people. But with the generous support of others, I could help many more people. My plan included the collection of medications, clothes and money. Money is a key ingredient in helping people in desperate situations. I also talked a lot of my ideas for the venture through with local Boston area physicians, including a psychiatrist and a few general physicians. I am not a physician, my father was. But I learned a lot about physical, mental and spiritual healing growing up. I put all of this to use during this past trip to Guinea.
What does it do, how does it work?
After the first year it became clear that I could not bear that responsibility and pay my own bills at home in the US. I modified the position of The Guinea Fund to be a crisis fund. When our network on the ground tells me that someone might die, especially the young children, we wire enough funds to care for that person. One person at a time. We get a lot of requests but have learned how to select the requests that are going to make the biggest difference. We have to, or we would not be able to help anyone. We continue this effort today. All profits from DrumConnection Drum Circles, go directly into the fund.
How we do what we do.
Every year I take students who are interested in the music of the drums to Guinea for a complete immersion in the music, the language and the cuturre of Guinea. We travel in November at the tail-end of the rainy season and stay into December. Hiring the drum, dance, balafon, and Fula flute teachers as well as the cook and the assistants is the fun part as I know they and their families will be apart of our life for the next 3-4 weeks.
Organizing the trip is easy now that I’ve been there so many times. I have seen what works and what doesn’t. We take clues from the past trips and other people’s trips and make one heck of a great experience for our studnets. There is nothing like it.
One way that our trips are a little different from others is that we all live with a family, my Guinean family, in Cosa. While we have rules in place for the attendees, we allow for a lot of freedom when Guinea is tranquil. So, you are not segregted from the Guineans. You do as they do. We eat together, talk together, laugh and tell jokes a lot. We cry together when it is time to leave.
The music, dance, songs and drums of Guinea
Drumming and dancing the traditional rhythms and dances of Guinea is a profound vessel for change. Not only are you stretched to the limits of your mind and body, but you are tapping into centuries old music and dance forms that ellicit healling and calm after a day of crazy, fun excitement. There is nothing like it anywhere.
To keep the African sprirt alive in our conciousness and change the lives of our travelers; taking the Trip To Africa will ultimately changing the course of music worldwide.
We believe that... by educating many people on these trips with DrumConnection we can do what was asked of us by the ancient ones and those who have now passed. To keep the music and the spirit of Africa alive and preserve it’s fragile surviveable nature.
On these trips, we do more than that. We lift Africa up and say, you are beautiful, you are intense, you are a part of who we are and we will never forget you. Long live Guinea and long live Africa!