Home » N’Fungola Sibo presents live music and West African dance classes at NOMAADS fest Aug. 11-13
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N’Fungola Sibo presents live music and West African dance classes at NOMAADS fest Aug. 11-13

Mikeall “Myienie” Caesar founded N’Fungola Sibo to teach West African dance, a mission encouraged by her longtime mentor, Papa Abdoulaye Camara. Originally from Senegal, Camara had moved to New Orleans and was a founder of Culu Children’s Traditional African Dance Company and Allahbatu Traditional West African Dance and Drum Company.

N’Fungola Sibo has offered West African dance and drumming classes to a diverse range of participants and levels of experience for about 15 years. The group performs regularly at events like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation’s Treme Creole Gumbo and Congo Square Rhythms Festival, Freret Street Festival and other local events.

Last year, Caesar started her own festival, the New Orleans Music And African Dance Spectacle, or NOMAADS. The second iteration is Aug. 11-13 at the George & Joyce Wein Jazz & Heritage Center.

Caesar began the event to support local bands, especially those in need of exposure, and to bring master dancers to New Orleans to lead classes. That partially inspired the name.

“Nomads are people that travel,” Caesar says. “I have all these different artists I am bringing in to bridge the gap from Africa to America.”

The festival features nine drum and dance instructors originally from Guinea, Mali or Senegal, though all are currently based in the U.S. Each one specializes in particular dance, drumming or singing styles of their home-country. They’ll offer classes during the festival, and they’ll all be part of a presentation at the festival’s gala celebration on Saturday night at the Andre Cailloux Center for Performing Arts and Cultural Justice.

The lineup of guest instructors includes Marie Basse-Wiles, Adama Tall and Assane Mbaye, a trio of Senegalese natives who focus on sabar and kutiro dance. Sabar is a vibrant style of dance and drumming associated with ceremony from Wolof groups who lived in Senegal and The Gambia. Kutiro is named for one of the drums used in its rhythms.

Youssouf Koumbassa is originally from Guinea and is known for his stylish dancing and teaching its history. Also hailing from Guinea are drummers Mangue Sylla and Amo Soumah.

There are three participants originally from Mali. Moussa Traore is a drummer well versed in a variety of the nation’s dance rhythms. Souleymane “Solo” Sana and Djeneba Sako focus on both dancing and singing.

The music festival is free, and it also features craft and food vendors outdoors at the Wein Center. Classes take place inside the center beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 11, and at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, and Sunday, Aug. 13. All classes cost $25 each.

Saturday features live music from noon to 5:45 p.m., with a lineup of Sierra Green & The Soul Machine, Higher Heights Reggae Band, Righteous Wrong Reggae and Claude Bryant & The Allstars. Local DJs will provide the music on Sunday.

Caesar grew up ensconced in New Orleans music and culture. Her uncle Benjamin “Benny” Jones started Benny’s Bar, a music spot on the corner of Valence and Camp streets. Her aunt, Gaynelle Neville, noticed her dance talents and encouraged her to pursue them.

Though Caesar excelled at sports and loved all types of dance, from second lines to hip-hop, she developed a passion for West African dance. Neville introduced her to the Culu Children’s Traditional African Dance Company, co-founded by Camara. She developed her skills and knowledge, and later began teaching for his Allahbatu group in Gentilly. She liked what the company did for the community, but he had a slightly different vision for her.

“Papa Abdoulaye liked my dance style and told me he wanted me to create a performing company,” she says. “He gave me my name. N’Fungola sibo means ‘this is my dream’ in the Mandinka language.”

Though Caesar accepted the name and registered it, she didn’t actually start the company until years later. She was displaced to Texas following Hurricane Katrina, and it wasn’t until Camara died that she returned to New Orleans and began offering her own classes. She took a job teaching at St. Mary’s Academy in order to move home and began in 2007. 

With N’Fungola Sibo, Caesar has been dedicated to classes with live drumming, even if that was over Zoom during the Covid shutdowns. The group’s performances have highlighted many ceremonial and traditional dances celebrating harvests or rites such as weddings or the birth of a baby. Most are from Guinea, Senegal and Mali, with variations by region and cultural group. 

N’Fungola Sibo’s regular meetings include a more beginner-focused class on Tuesdays and various levels of experience on Thursdays. She’s opened the program to a diverse range of participants, by age, ethnicity and physical abilities.

“I have kids, grandkids, mothers, grandmothers, dads, uncles, aunties,” she says. “We’re like a real family. It’s not just about dancing. It’s about well-being. It’s about maintaining the whole body.”

As Caesar has pursued traditional dance, she’s traveled to West Africa and beyond. She will go to France this year for the third time to participate in workshops. She visits Guinea every year, and when she makes her 10th trip this fall, she’ll bring 10 company members with her to study. She has a couple acres of land in Coyah, Guinea, where the group will stay. Caesar also was certified in dance by the Republic of Guinea.

With each step, she’s building a stronger link between the dance cultures of New Orleans and West Africa.

For dance class tickets and festival information, visit nfungolasibo.com.

Source : Gambit