Summer 2021 saw an easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Wales and an exciting programme that took The Successors of the Mandingue to North Wales for an ambitious multi-stranded project thanks to the Arts Council of Wales’ Creative Steps funding initiative – “The Sound of Africa goes North: Mandingue Afro-Welsh fusions”
A group of 17 musicians including Wales based artists, UK based West African artists, and a group of experienced fusion experimenters based in Bristol who all travelled to Gwynedd for an intensive creative and collaborative residential working together at Sain Studios in Caernarfon.
Mid-week, locals in Bethesda were treated to a pop-up performance at Y Sior pub by a duo of master musicians playing a beautiful set of traditional West African Mandingue songs – N’famady Kouyaté on guitar and Suntou Susso on kora. Word soon got round the village, yet we were able to manage numbers and social distancing while enabling those in attendance to enjoy the experience.
A further pop-up was orchestrated for the Friday afternoon/evening at the waterside in Caernarfon in partnership with Y Galeri arts centre. This time the performers were a four strong quartet of UK based master drummers hailing from Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, and Guinea. We attracted an audience from passers by, cafe customers, and office workers opening their windows to let the rhythms in!
The final weekend of the project ended on a high with a sell-out gig at Neuadd Ogwen, showcasing and sharing the creative work of the week, plus a participatory community workshop.
The performance featured two ensembles, first a traditional West African line up of djembe, doundoun, kora, and balafon bringing together disparate UK based West African musicians. The second was an 11-piece Afro-Welsh fusion band including congas, a horn section of sax & trumpet, guitars, keyboards, drumkit, plus West African instrumentation.
The following day our parting activity was a follow-up community participatory drumming and cultural exchange workshop. The session was tailored to suit all levels and included attendees from a drumming circle, a professional percussionist, families, and audience members from the previous evening. Participants were encouraged to ask questions of the four master musicians facilitating the session to make it an interactive and educational experience drawing on the four different national traditions of the workshop leaders.