Messages of Hope: Songs and Stories of Veterans

Messages of Hope: Songs and Stories of Veterans is an intensive teaching and performance-based mentoring program, which introduces and immerses U.S. Military Veterans in West African music and dance, allowing them a focused way of telling their own individual stories through music, movement and rhythm while providing therapeutic engagement to address issues of PTSD and trauma associated with their time of service.

Through a weekly series of dance/drum/song workshops with NEA National Heitage Fellow Sidiki Conde, U.S. military veterans in therapeutic groups use Guinean musical elements to communicate their challenges with post-traumatic stress and trauma.

By mastering simple rhythms, steps and songs of Kasa, a Mandingo rhythm, participants learn how to create their own songs, telling their own stories through the vocabulary of the Kasa rhythm. The shared vocabulary of the underlying rhythm and structure enables all members of the workshop group to participate in and support the musical and emotional journey of their fellow veterans.

The project commenced in March 2019 at the Bronx Vet Centerwith a group of veterans from various US Military service experiences under the supervision of Bronx Vet Center social worker Dan Stillwell. An open house featuring Sidiki Conde and members of his group Tokounou was held at the James J. Peters VA Medical Center in the Bronx and another performance for homeless veterans at Veterans House in East Harlem, both in Spring 2019. The series will start again in Fall 2019 at the Bronx Center and include two performances by Sidiki Conde at nearby Poe Park Visitor’s Center, featuring members of the group sessions.

This project is a new initiative of the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, produced and created by CTMD Touring Artist and NEA National Heritage Fellow Sidiki Conde, a master Guinean drummer, dancer and singer who despite losing the use of his legs as a young boy, trained to become a powerful acrobatic dancer. Conde grew up in a military family, where his father was a Guinean army commander, it was expected that he too would follow his brothers and sisters into a military career.

However, in Conde’s village in Guinea, disabled people commonly were banished from their homes in order to not bring shame or bad luck upon their family. Conde was sent to his grandfather’s village, where he had to adapt the traditional culture to his abilities to dance in traditional ceremonies. With these adaptive skills, Conde later formed the band Message de Espoir, with disabled people living on the city streets of the Guinean capital Conakry. The group toured throughout West Africa, bringing their message of hope and inclusion for disabled citizens. In the United States, Conde continues to perform and teach, instructing people of all abilities in schools, hospitals and universities.

Messages of Hope is supported by The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs Create NYC Disability Forward Fund and The New York State Council on the Arts.

 

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