There’s nothing like dancing to live fiddle music!

This evening at the adults Irish dance class we were lucky enough to have Mike Evans to provide live fiddle music! He played some lovely jigs for our review of the Siege of Carrick céili dance (our performance piece from St. Patrick’s Week) and also a new dance, the Walls of Limerick.

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Mike and his wife Jennie will still be on island next week, so we’ll have one more workshop with them. If you missed this class, make sure you don’t miss next week!

Walls of Limerick at Lookout Primary School

This afternoon it was all about the Walls of Limerick at Lookout Primary School. This popular céili dance is the very first dance I learned, and it continues to be my favorite to teach. We worked on formations and straight lines, doing hop 23s while turning (required when crossing/switching places across the set), and swinging.

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The set formation is “wall-like,” with couples facing each other, and I explained that Limerick is a city in Ireland, where I lived for one year.

The girls did a great job with the dance! They have a couple weeks to practice, as it will be spring vacation.

Update: Post-St. Patrick’s Day Schedule

We now have the post-St. Patrick’s Day schedule confirmed! Irish dance classes will continue starting next week until the middle of May. The schedule will be as follows:

Mondays, 3:15pm, St. Augustine Primary School, grades 3-6 only
Tuesdays, 3:15pm, Lookout Primary School, grades 3-6 only
Tuesdays, 7:30pm, Old Salem School, adults

See you next week!

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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Irish dancers perform at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Dinner

Irish dancers from St. Augustine Roman Catholic School were invited to perform at the St. Patrick’s Catholic Dinner on Saturday at the Montserrat Culture Centre in Little Bay, and we were happy to entertain during the meal. We had four dancers and they did a great job showing some of the choreography that we’ve been working on for the past few weeks. The boys actually came with the intention of drumming (there was a miscommunication, as they thought drummers would also be performing), but they offered to dance instead and learned the choreography out on the lawn just before we went on stage! They are fast learners, and it helped that they already knew the “words” for the dance, as the girls chant them all the time at school: “Hop forward and forward and clap, and back and back two three…Irish, Irish, one two three, salsa, salsa, one two three.”

The audience seemed to enjoy the performance and it was a wonderful opportunity to show what we’ve accomplished in a short amount of time. The Martin Healy Band was also there to entertain, and Father George led everyone in a sing-along of Irish tunes. It was a beautiful evening, the food was delicious (the duckna was my favorite) and a great way to kick off the St. Patrick’s weekend!

Thank you Father George and St. Augustine principal Claudia Skerritt for the invitation!

I am still looking for a video of the performance, so watch this space for an update.

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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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An Irish/Montserratian encounter at St. Augustine School

What a great event! The Skype call began promptly at 9:30am with the Irish and Montserratian students greeting each other via video chat. Everyone here was dressed in the appropriate colors for St. Patrick’s Day: lots of green, lots of white, and lots of national dress as well (which is a combination of Montserrat’s colors: green, orange, and white). The assembly area was decorated with shamrocks and other Irish-themed paraphernalia.

There was a lot of exchange back and forth as the students took turns asking and answering questions and talking about what their school is like. Students at Gaelscoile d’ide Primary School in Fermoy, Co. Cork told the students at St. Augustine about some of their favorite hobbies, such as hurling (an uniquely Irish sport), and about what a typical day at school is like. They also sang some songs and said some prayers.

The St. Augustine students talked about their Irish surnames—Rhonda Allen spoke by herself about her Irish surname and her interest in cooking. The students spoke some of the Irish they have learned recently, and they also sang some songs.

The dancers did a wonderful job demonstrating what they’ve learned over the past two months! They were focused and took it seriously and the céili dance looked beautiful. It was hard to know what the Irish students thought, but I’ll bet they were impressed! (See video below.)

Then the masquerade dancers demonstrated what they do, with their elaborate and colorful costumes and rousing drums. The dance is definitely similar to Irish dance, but also extremely unique.

Finally, the steel pan orchestra played a few songs. As a novice panner, I can say that these children are really good. It’s not an easy instrument and it takes a lot of teamwork to make it all work together!

Congratulations to all involved, and thank you to Graham Clifford (of the Irish Independent), Mrs. Claudia Skerritt (St. Augustine’s principal), and all the teachers at both St. Augustine and Gaelscoile d’ide Primary School. Hopefully this connection and friendship will continue!

Here are some visual highlights from the morning:

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St. Augustine students sit quietly as they wait for the Skype call to begin. They are wearing beautiful colors today!

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Graham Clifford of the Irish Independent newspaper sets up the Skype call on his laptop.

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The young students wave hello to their new friends in Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland!

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Irish dancers take center stage!

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Space was tight, but this was the most successful “waves” we’ve ever done!

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The masquerade dancers show what Montserratian traditional dance looks like—Teacher Sarah Allen describes it as a combination of Irish and African movements, but emphasizes that it is uniquely Montserratian (distinct also from the masquerade dances of other nearby Caribbean islands).

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Herman “Cupid” Francis explains to the Irish students the history of steel pans.

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The students give an impressive performance on the steel pans!