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KanKouran Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary in Style

Barrington M. Salmon | 9/4/2013, 3 p.m.
For about an hour and a half, members of the KanKouran West African Dance Company held a standing-room-only audience spellbound ...
Co-founder and artistic director Assane Konte dedicated the dance company's 30th anniversary and the Aug. 31 performance of "Kounta Balamoure" to his childhood friend Abdou Kounta. Kounta served as KanKouran's co-founder and its first director of music. The concert took place at Lisner Auditorium in Northwest.

For about an hour and a half, members of the KanKouran West African Dance Company held a standing-room-only audience spellbound with the stellar drumming and scintillating dance numbers for which the group is known.

Co-founder and artistic director Assane Konte dedicated the dance company’s 30th anniversary and the Aug. 31 performance, “Kounta Balamoure,” to his childhood friend Abdou Kounta who died January 24, 2011. Kounta served as KanKouran’s co-founder and its first director of music. Saturday’s event was the culmination of three days of workshops.

“Abdou and I met in elementary school in Dakar, Senegal,” Konte recalled. “We became friends because we shared similar personalities. He loved to drum and I loved to dance.”

Konte, 63, said the pair each shared dreams of lives in The Arts, and as they grew up, they pursued their interests. Kounta joined the Ballet D’Afrique Noire, while Konte joined Les Ballets Africains.

Konte was invited to tour the Ivory Coast with the troupe, all the while missing his friend terribly, he said.

“Because I was having problems continuing to keep my dancing secret from my family, I quit my job just before the tour began,” he said. “I knew that once we got to the Ivory Coast, I was not going back home.”

The pair moved off on separate paths but ended up bumping into each other in Washington in 1979.

Ami Kounta enjoyed the performance and the fact that it honored her father.

“I thought it was nice,” the 14-year-old dancer said. “The set and the lights were pleasing to the eye and it was special because the show was dedicated to my father.”

Ami remembered her dad as a master drummer deeply immersed in his craft and someone who was funny and quiet but very outgoing.

“He was laid-back but told people what he thought,” she said.

Konte arrived in the U.S. to dance with the group Koumpo, under the direction of Ibrahim Camara.

In the years since he’s been in the Nation’s Capital, Konte has developed a renowned dance company that has amassed adoring audiences while bringing the richness and diversity of West African dance to the area.

KanKouran means “teacher” and Konte and Kounta offered drumming and dance classes to eager students from this area and beyond.

The dancers at the Lisner Auditorium Saturday night sashayed, spun and stepped, arms outstretched, graceful bodies moving in unison, their sweeping movements powered by the mesmerizing drums, tamanis, ngonis, koras and a balafone, which resembles a xylophone. As many as 10 drummers stood side-by-side, their hands a blur as they pounded and coaxed ancient rhythms out of the drums, and drum soloists stepped forward to showcase their expertise. The drums led call-and-responses which were picked up by the audience who sang and chanted along with the performers.

Everywhere people looked, they were met with African prints splashed with a riot of color. In the midst of rousing performances, men and women walked to the front to throw rolled up dollar bills onto the stage – in appreciation of the searing performances. Members of KanKouran’s Senior, Adult Community Class, Junior Returning and Children’s companies danced. When the young children danced and drummed, the audience expressed their appreciation, and at the end, a tremendous roar, clapping, cheers and whooping and hollering rocked the auditorium.