Irish dancers on the red carpet at the Easter Sunday Hat Parade and Tea Party

The St. Augustine Irish dancers did a great job performing their choreography at the school’s Hat Parade and Tea Party fundraiser on Easter Sunday yesterday. While the audience sipped tea and snacked on Easter treats, the girls showed off the dance they’ve been rehearsing for weeks. Don’t they look great in their coordinated pinks?

Video credit: Elizabeth Piper-Wade

Seeing all the creative hats that the students made was fun way to celebrate on Easter Sunday afternoon. Even the young ones had their model struts down, and the K-2 boys put on a lively performance for their walk down the red carpet. I don’t know how the judges were able to determine a winner!

The Catholic Youth Community ladies also showed real panache as they modeled high fashion Easter hats for the occasion.

The St. Augustine steel pan orchestra provided some pleasant entertainment as well. They play with such energy and vigor!

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Threading the needle and breakin’ it down

Yesterday we did some collaborative choreography in both classes, at Lookout Primary School and with the adults in Salem. It was great to get everyone’s creative input!

We included a new figure called “threading the needle,” and also included some moves inspired by Afro-Brazilian/samba and…break dancing. Yep, our Irish céili dance has a top rock in it!

The Lookout and adult versions of the dance have the same basic structure, but there are some differences since the students were responsible for the choreography. We’ll keep developing these dances next week and see what we come up with! These would be great performance pieces in the future.

Also, the Lookout girls proposed a great idea: a beach party for everyone who has participated in the Blended Rhythms workshops! We have chosen Sunday, May 11 at 2pm at Little Bay beach for snacks, drinks, games, and swimming. Stay tuned for more on this!

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A three-hand reel at Lookout Primary School

Lookout Primary School is officially on spring vacation right now, but the Grade 6ers were at school for exams, and they wanted to meet at our usual time for Irish dance class. It was a small class, but we choreographed a whole new dance! This is the creative group—they are focused and motivated, and have choreographed their own dances already, so I knew they’d be up for creating something new today.

We made up a three-hand reel, or a dance for three dancers (yes, we know they actually have six hands total). We started with a simple lead-around to “mark the territory,” as is traditional in a three-hand reel, and then did some side steps. The “double bridge” (as we’re calling it) was a new figure that looks pretty cool, and then we did a rose-like formation in a circle. The end of the dance has a couple Charleston steps, just for fun. (Homework this week is to look up flappers and Roaring Twenties Charleston steps on YouTube!)

Also, well done to one of the girls, who did an amazing job keeping up even though it was her very first day joining us!

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Adult dancers heat things up with the Bonfire dance

This evening we started with small numbers, but ended up convincing some of the guys who play basketball outside to join us. (We spied them imitating the dance in the doorway, so we invited them in, and it didn’t take much to persuade them!)

We had fiddler Mike Evans in the house again this week, this time playing reels for the Bonfire céili dance. This is a good dance for social interaction, as you move around the circle and dance with a new partner every time. The figures are a bit more complicated than those we’ve done in previous dances, and the circular nature of the dance was also new.

Trivia: the Bonfire is the only céili dance that has a figure named after a flower: the “rose,” when the ladies go in the center and gents stay on the outside circle, and then vice versa. When on the outside circle, the “book” (that is, Ár Rincí Fóirne) states that the dancers should wait in a pose with the left hand on the left hip and the right foot pointed forward with knee slightly bent. However, the boys got a little more creative. They decided to add some “vogue” poses every 2 bars, and I think I saw some Latin dance moves in there too.

I had come straight to the Irish dance class from a masquerade dance rehearsal with Montserrat’s Ladies of Alliouagana troupe. It is interesting to see how similar the quadrille formations are to céili dancing, and they also feature a one-two-three step. However, instead of hopping and standing erect and upright, the step is more of a shuffle with an emphasis down rather than up, and the posture is slightly bent over. We went through 5 quadrilles, one after the other, with lots of hooked arms, ladies chains, and arch-like formations. Not to mention the famous heel-and-toe step that is supposedly related to the Irish polka!

It was a wonderful (sweaty!) evening of blended rhythms, going from Montserratian to Irish dancing 🙂

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The culmination of Blended Rhythms at Montserrat’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival

This was it, the day we’ve all been waiting for! St. Patrick’s Day in Montserrat certainly did not disappoint. It was a whirlwind of activities, starting with the parade from the Montserrat Secondary School down the main road to “Heritage Village” in Salem.

The paraders gathered at MSS starting from around 1pm, and troupes included the Emerald Shamioles Masquerade Troupe (in their colorful ribboned costumes), Sankofa Garden (with their truck full of plants), Coral Cay (the local conservation research team), the Blended Rhythms Irish dancers, and Jalikunda (West African dance/drumming troupe). There were donkey rides for kids (and some adults!) and everyone was dressed in the kitschiest green “paddywhackery” you can imagine. If it weren’t for the hot sun, you might have thought you were in Dublin itself. Maybe.

Graham Clifford from the Irish Independent was there, reporting back home to Ireland about St. Patrick’s Day festivities on Montserrat. He spoke into the camera while paraders sang “Proud to be Montserratian” in the background, waving shamrocks and wooden machetes.

The groups lined up and started walking at around 2pm. I have to describe how incredible this experience was for me. The Irish dancers were between the masquerade dancers at the front and the West African drummers at the back, and so we were literally dancing to blended rhythms. We didn’t know which rhythm to follow! Both sounds kept fading in and out, and they both worked for the dancing, but the dancing had to change significantly depending on which rhythm we paid attention to.

The girls did a great job dancing, and we kept it simple: just some 3s and “sliding doors,” and we heard a few spectators exclaim, “Irish dancers!!!” The sun was bright and hot, and the road was long, but we powered through anyway. The excitement was infectious.

When we arrived at Heritage Village, we were greeted by Basil Chambers, who announced that he had no program for the day’s performances, and he would just be calling groups on stage as he spotted them in the crowd. The Blended Rhythms Irish dancers went up fairly early, and since we didn’t have time to arrange any music, we did our 3s and swings to soca music! Like the masquerade and djembe rhythms, the soca rhythm works just fine for Irish dancing, if a little off-putting at first.

The adult dancers also did a reprisal of their Siege of Carrick céili dance from Wednesday evening’s Shamrock Cabaret, and Mike Evans, visiting from the UK, played an Irish jig for us on his fiddle. We had a great time!

From there, the day was chock full of different forms of music, including local reggae, the Rude Boys String Band, a political rap, and soca. Calypso/soca King Wallace was in attendance, and I was disappointed that he didn’t give a performance of his famous “Dracula” hit from Christmas.

Jalikunda also performed again, and dancer Marietou Kouyate gathered some of the Blended Rhythms dancers together for an impromptu African dance performance! We threw on some skirts and jumped up on stage to shake it. We each did a solo as well, and you could see traces of each dancer’s background, from Haitian dance to masquerade dance to samba. It’s always the unexpected things that are the most fun!

Mike Evans also joined Jalikunda for some fun collaborations: he and Sidiki Dembelé paired up for an interesting ngoni/fiddle duet, and Landing Mané and I traded West African and Irish dance steps on stage. Marietou and Mamadou Cissokho also sang along with Sidiki and Mike for an improvised blended performance. Finally, the sound of the fiddle and djembe together lured me up on stage for some sean nós dancing, and I was joined by some others for some energetic steps on stage. It was impossible to resist!

The Volpanics and Genesis steel pan orchestras also played, and added a lot to the ambience of the afternoon. There were food stalls around the perimeter of Heritage Village, selling rotis, wraps, rice and peas, chicken, fried fish, duckna, goat water, and other treats. There was plentiful Guinness and Carib beer too, of course.

The Montserrat St. Patrick’s Day Festival was deemed a huge success, and it was a great finish for the Blended Rhythms program! We will take a week to recover and will start up a more limited schedule of Irish dance workshops next week.

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Masquerade dancers line up for the parade

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Blended Rhythms Irish dancers dance in the parade

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Jalikunda add some West African spice to the St. Patrick’s Day parade

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Paraders arrive at Heritage Village

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Masquerade dancers whirl up a dust storm in Heritage Village

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Landing and Kate trade West African and Irish dance steps on stage with djembe player Sidiki and fiddler Mike

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Blended Rhythms drumming students enjoy Jalikunda’s rousing performance (and see what they are working towards!)

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Some Haitian dancing adds a new element to Jalikunda’s West African music

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Jalikunda and fiddler Mike bring together Irish and West African rhythms on stage

Jalikunda and Oliver Mtukudzi liven up the African Music Festival stage

The African Music Festival was a huge success! The evening began with performances by local soca artists such as Nyne, Kelvin “Tabu” Duberry, and others, and the last small act before the featured performers went on stage was the one and only…Blended Rhythms drummers!

We had to manage the performance without Dominique leading us, so I mustered up my courage (and spent the day obsessively listening to recordings of our classes) and led the group for three of our favorite rhythms from the past couple of months: sinte, assiko, and kassa. Members of Jalikunda were kind enough to back us, as a favor to their friend and bandmate Dominique, and their djembe and dun dun support made us sound pretty awesome 🙂 Thank you Mamadou, Landing, and Sidiki!


You can see that we had a good turnout of adult drummers, and I thought we did a great job. And everyone retained their composure when the electricity in the park went out completely for about 3 minutes in the middle of our first rhythm (how professional!). We just kept going without lights or amplification, which I think actually gave us some more confidence (haha).

Jalikunda was on stage next, and…wow! I have to apologize for having very few photos or videos of their performance, but I was too busy dancing my a$$ off! We crowded towards the front of the stage and went wild. The band played a combination of sweet almost-lullaby-like songs with high energy djembe numbers: Mamadou Cissokho played some moving songs on his kora (African harp) and sang with Marietou Kouyate, and Sidiki Dembelé wowed the audience with his impossibly fast djembe hands. Oumar Sagna played djembe and calabash and danced, Landing Mané played the dun duns and danced, and Ernest played djembe and also danced.

Marietou was new to the band at this year’s Montserrat African Music Festival, and she really added a whole new (female) element to the performance. Ernest was also a newcomer this year, and his solo dance moves from Ghana were clearly distinct from the Senegalese style we saw in the other dancers. I may have seen a bit of azonto in there?

Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits were up next with a very different vibe—their music from Zimbabwe is much calmer and it is absolutely mesmerizing. I wasn’t jumping up and down the way I was with Jalikunda, but I found myself swaying back and forth, getting lost in the music. Not even the rain could keep me away from the stage (whereas some fled temporarily for cover)!

At the end, both bands joined up on stage for a “West Africa meets Southern Africa” collaboration. The joint performance was entirely unrehearsed, but you would hardly know it. They blended together seamlessly and the dancing, once it was released from the confines of “choreography,” was out of this world! They even brought out Tabu and their stage manager for an impromptu dance on stage, introducing Montserrat and the UK to the mix.

The atmosphere at the festival was wonderful. There were more people than I remember from last year and the program surprisingly stayed on schedule, without any delays. Congratulations to Kato Kimbugwe, Jonette Silcott, and the rest of the African Music Festival committee on a successful 2nd annual festival! I can’t wait for next year.

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Mamadou Cissokho on kora

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Sidiki Dembelé on ngoni and Mamadou on kora

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Ernest and Marietou Kouyate dance at the end of the night

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Ernest throws some high kicks during a solo dance performance

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Landing squats down for an impossibly cool “knee” dance (he makes it look easy…it is not)

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Dance party on stage

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Jalikunda and Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi get Montserrat’s schoolchildren on their feet

Yesterday the African Music Festival guest performers Jalikunda and Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi visited Montserrat’s three primary schools, starting at Brades, then St. Augustine’s, and ending at Lookout. They brought their energetic beats to the schoolchildren and got everyone on their feet!

Tuku brings his traditional music style from Zimbabwe, creating a chill and relaxed (but certainly rhythmic) atmosphere. The kids were swaying back and forth and bopping up and down, and a few couldn’t stay in their seats, jumping up to show off some fancy footwork.

Jalikunda’s members are based in the UK and Europe, but they hail from Senegal, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast. They offer a combination of serene lullaby-like songs with wild drumming and dancing. Band leader Mamadou Cissokho taught them a call-and-response song: “Zebele zebele, zebele zebele, zebele zebele, coco va coco wa” (pardon my spelling). Then Sidiki played an incredibly fast djembe solo that led into a tight drumming segment that brought out dancers Mariatou Kouyate, Oumar Alex Sagna, and Ernest. The children were mesmerized and then went crazy, especially when Mariatou danced!

Jalikunda tried to end their demonstration, but the students demanded more, more, more! So the band played some more rhythms and the kids rushed the stage area, losing themselves in the music.

Teacher Sarah Allen thanked the band afterwards, explaining how important it is to feel connected to their African heritage:

“The rhythm that was played this morning by the bands is the same kind of rhythm that we have here in Montserrat. When I hear the drum, I move. Whenever I hear that drum beat, it is just typical African music. And as for that dancing, Lord have mercy! I wish I was young again so I could move like that!”

Tuku and Jalikunda will both perform tonight on the big stage at Salem Park. The festival will begin at around 8pm, and be sure to be there by 8:45pm, when Blended Rhythms adult students will demonstrate the djembe rhythms they’ve learned over the past couple months!

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“Mommy…I hear a rhythm…get ready to jig to the drums of freedom!”

“Mommy…I hear a rhythm…Mommy…I hear a rhythm…get ready to jig to the drums of freedom!” says the radio ad for Rhythm Night this St. Patrick’s Festival 2014. And that is just what we did.

It was a rocking party at Rhythm Night in Salem last night! The Rude Boys started the evening with some string band rhythms in front of Gary Moore’s. The unique sound of harmonica with conga drum, guitar, and other percussive instruments got everyone bopping up and down and side to side. Then the Volpanics entertained with their repertoire of songs on the steel pans, including some Irish songs, such as “Danny Boy” and “Cockles and Mussels.” However, it was “La Bamba,” Arrow’s “Hot Hot Hot” and King Wallace’s “Dracula” that really got people moving and dancing. The Genesis Steel Pan Orchestra also played in front of Desert Storm.

If you wandered down to Desert Storm, you would have heard the distinctly Montserratian masquerade drumming and found a lively street jam! That is exactly what I did, and I ended up learning some masquerade steps, including the heel and toe, from my friends who are members of the Ladies of Alliouagana masquerade troupe. (They are also Blended Rhythms students!) We made our way through the street, cars honking at us as they tried to get past. Miss Goosey was hovering eerily above my head—does anyone else find her a bit creepy? (See video below.)

Next up was the Martin Healy Band playing some Irish ballads inside of Gary Moore’s. They also played some jigs and polkas that got the Blended Rhythms students on the dance floor for an impromptu jam! We did a bit of a reprisal of our Siege of Carrick dance from the Shamrock Cabaret.

Talk about a blending of rhythms! That’s what Rhythm Night in Montserrat is all about. Check out the video below to hear the eclectic range of beats!

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An evening of jigs, hymns, and ballads at the Shamrock Cabaret

Some great craic was had at last night’s Shamrock Cabaret at the Old Primary School in Salem! The Emerald Community Singers came out in colorful costumes and entertained with some Irish favorites such as “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “I’ll Tell Me Ma,” and “Wild Rover,” but they also sang some African-themed songs such as “Mama Africa,” and a number of Montserratian tunes such as “Beloved Montserrat” and “Fire Up a Mountain.” As always, they provided a combination of solemn hymns alongside raucously funny ditties, with hips swaying and flags waving. (Is anyone else as mesmerized by the charismatic stage presence of Elizabeth Piper-Wide and Herman “Cupid” Francis as I am?)

The Martin Healy Band from Dublin also provided some tunes, airs, and ballads from their wide repertoire of Irish music. Niall Brosnan (accordion) and Thomas Phelan (banjo, whistles, and vocals) joined Martin (guitar and vocals) and began their segment with a rousing set of polkas called the “Salem Set” that made me wish we had prepared a polka set dance for the show! Next year, for sure.

The Blended Rhythms dancers made me proud! The eight ladies, dressed in black and green, performed the Siege of Carrick to a set of jigs played by the band. They made the best of the tight space on stage, smiling all the way through. We even got the audience clapping along! I also danced a hard shoe hornpipe followed by a treble reel. Thanks to Niall for the wonderful accordion music!

Congratulations to all involved, and thanks to Richard Aspin for organizing the event and inviting Blended Rhythms to participate!

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