West African Roots Rhythms in Water Mill
The Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill is celebrating three West African countries tomorrow night with live performances and the screening of two 30-minute documentaries.
West Africa’s vibrant and diverse contemporary culture is the subject of Ismael Kouyate’s 45-minute set of African music, to be performed outdoors on the museum’s terrace at 7:30 p.m. with his eight-piece band, the Radiant Select. Mr. Kouyate, a renowned Guinean singer, choreographer, and dancer whose vocals can be heard on Beyonce’s song “Grown Woman,” leads the band, which merges West African roots music with funk, soul, and international rhythms. Its members are Electra Weston and Iris Wilson on vocals, Matthew Albeck and Richard Padron on guitar, Ran Livneh on bass, Takafumi Suenaga on keyboards, Abdoulaye Touré on percussion, and Andy Algire on drums.
Two short films from the documentary series “Afripedia” will follow at 8:30, also outdoors. The films, shot in Ghana and Senegal, focus on the young urban generation of African artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, musicians, photographers, and cultural activists, each challenging preconceptions and stereotypes through art and activism.
Mr. Kouyate, who will perform again at 9:30, was born to a long line of griots, the oral historians who preserve history and culture through song, music, and dance. The tradition spans “my father’s father’s father’s father, going back 1,000 years,” he told The Star. His father, Elhadj Kankou Kemo Kouyate, who died last month, performed for 25 years with the late Miriam Makeba, the South African singer and civil rights activist who was a force against apartheid in South Africa. His mother, Mama Diabate, is also a vocalist and performer.
Mr. Kouyate began a career in dance at age 15, joining Ballet Communale de Matam. He was its principal dancer for nine years. He later joined Ballets Africains, the national dance company of Guinea, which revived and celebrated dances and rhythms from all over the country for the troupe’s 50th-anniversary tour of the United States, called “Jubilee!” Ballets Africains has performed throughout the world.
In 2000, Mr. Kouyate was recruited by the national ensemble Les Percussions de Guinea, and spent three years as the group’s lead dancer and griot. He taught dance and song to international groups visiting Guinea, and taught and performed in Senegal and France.
He came to the United States in 2006, was engaged as master choreographer for the musical “Fela!” and played a principal role in its Broadway production and international tour. It was in “Fela!”, which is based on the life and music of the late Nigerian composer, musician, and human rights activist Fela Kuti, that Beyonce heard his vocals and invited him to sing on “Grown Woman.”
Mr. Kouyate “is an amazing performer, dancer, and singer,” Corinne Erni, the Parrish’s curator of special projects, said. “The griots are the storytellers and keepers of history in West Africa, like a walking library, if you will. It’s wonderful how he brings that into a contemporary American environment. I think it will be a real high-energy and stunning event.”
Initially self-funded, and then broadcast on television in the filmmakers’ native Sweden, “Afripedia” is described as a platform and a visual guide to art, film, photography, fashion, design, music, and contemporary culture. “Afripedia, Ghana” features artists, acrobats, a singer and fashion designer, and another outspoken singer and performer. “Afripedia, Senegal” spotlights a few of that country’s artists, among them a photographer, fashion designer, cultural activist and blogger, and an organizer of urban dance circles.
“Everybody come enjoy the show,” Mr. Kouyate said. “We don’t just tell a story; I’m here to make people happy and excited, and to give them more power in their life, to make sure they forget about bad things and think about the nice things in their own life. If you come see my show you will say, ‘I’m so happy, my body feels good.’ ”
Tickets for “Music and Films from West Africa” featuring Ismael Kouyate, tomorrow night at 7:30, are $20, $5 for members, children 5 and older, and students, and include museum admission. Reservations have been strongly encouraged.