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July 02, 2009

Raving for the Congo and the Kids

Djembe master Vado Diamande
drums for a good cause at Citrine.

Photo: Cochrane Williams

by John Oseid

These days in Manhattan's Flatiron District, you can't stroll past two buildings in a row without stumbling upon a lounge party. But few events have the verve--or purpose--as the one I attended last weekend at Citrine. Djembe drum master Vado Diomande kicked off the party by playing rhythms used in sacred Ivorian traditions. Then DJ mOma took over and spun hours of African pop, reggae, and hip-hop to raise funds for underprivileged Congolese girls' educations.

Two years ago Cypriot/Congolese fashion model NoŽlla Coursaris started the Georges Malaika Foundation (it's named for her father). The GMF began sponsoring its first group of sixteen girls last year, covering their tuition, supplies, uniforms, and meals. At the event, I learned that $10 covers a student's breakfast and lunch for a week, $50 gets someone a week of education, and $500 can pay for a whole year of hitting the books. The foundation's ultimate goal is to build a school big enough to serve 300 girls by 2010.

The evening, sponsored in part by my friends from the downtown multicultural magazine Trace, was organized by l'Altruist, a fund-raising group launched by young Sudanese-American professionals. Here's my favorite part: All proceeds go to GMF projects. An upcoming generation of Americans with pan-African roots--Somali designers, Ethiopian models, Guinean stylists, and even West Indian bankers--are dedicated to giving back on a micro level and unleashing the enormous potential of the continent. Sometimes putting your hands in the air is the right way to effect change.

More music:
* Ivoirian djembe drummer Vado Diomande founded the Kotchegna Dance Company in the mid-nineties, and they have performed at such venues as Lincoln Center. If you're dying to learn the djembe, Diomande teaches drumming and he also makes and repairs drums.
* When DJ mOma had the crowd dancing to Magic System's "Premier Gaou," he took me back some years to the great African nightclubs in Paris where I first heard the song. Here's the clip to one of the francophone world's biggest hits ever.
* The Congo's great contribution to pop music is the signature guitar riffs in soukous music that are being imitated around the world. Last fall I caught soukous veteran Kanda Bongo Man in concert.
* Boom Box: An unabashed gusto for music of the world



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