Friday, March 31, 2023

Senegalese griot and accompanists visit the university

Arts and CultureSenegalese griot and accompanists visit the university

Managing News Editor

Boubacar Ndiaye swept onto the stage, taking the position between his two accompanying musicians, Cheikh Mbaye and Pape N’diaye Paamath. To the music of drums and guitar, Ndiaye faced the audience of students, faculty and community members in Gore Recital Hall. 

A griot, Ndiaye travels around the world performing “Voyage without a Visa,” a concert that blends stories of childhood in Senegal with the hope and disillusion of immigration to Europe. Griots are traditional musicians, poets and oral storytellers from West Africa. 

Callie Gingrich, a sophomore biology major, attended the event after hearing about it from her French professor. The multicultural focus in particular piqued her interest. 

“It exposes us to other things and different cultures, so it can’t hurt to come and hear music and stories,” Gringrich said. “It sounded interesting.”  

“Voyage without a Visa,” and Ndiaye’s arrival at the university on Oct. 6, was due to efforts on behalf of the French faculty at the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures. A bilingual performance, Ndiaye and his accompanists narrated and sang in French and their native language, Wolof, with an English translation projected on a screen behind them. 

“The mission of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures is ‘to build cultural knowledge and understanding, preparing students to become international citizens,’ so we take that seriously, our role in fostering the internationalization of UD’s curriculum and this just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to expose the UD community to languages and culture that might be unfamiliar,” Deborah Steinberger, a French professor in the department, said. 

Steinberger proposed the event after hearing about Ndiaye’s group’s tour from a colleague at another university. 

“We also found that the subject of the concert, global immigration, was very timely,” Steinberger said. 

The show includes the story of three characters on their journey to immigrate to France, highlighting the trials accompanying a perilous voyage, elusive documentation and separated families. Through song, stories and dance, the performers conveyed the tension of wanting a better life for one’s family and needing to leave them behind in order to ensure it. At the end of the performance, the three artists received a standing ovation from the crowd. 

“The performance was very moving,” Steinberger said. “One of my colleagues in French called it ‘a gift,’ and it far surpassed my expectations.” 

After the event, Ndiaye returned to the stage for a Q&A, translated by masters students in the university’s French program. In this segment, Ndiaye gave the audience a closer look into the history and origins of the show itself, as well as his own life being raised in Senegal before studying in, and eventually immigrating to, France. 

Ndiaye, Mbaye and Paamath have been traveling, performing “Voyage without a Visa” together for eight years now. They first began in Senegal back in 2014, before taking the show abroad to Europe, and now, for the third time, to the United States. 

“I’d seen a YouTube video of a scene from one of their performances, and I thought it was great, but nothing really compares to live music,” Steinberger said. “I loved how the musicians engaged the audience, inviting us to clap and sing along and reflect on world events and our own experiences.”

Reflecting on his past during the Q&A, Ndiaye spoke of the influence his family, and in particular, the women in his life have had on his art and the show itself. 

“These women gave me all my life’s joy,” Ndiaye said. “Every time I speak … I say that my mouth is an open door for my two mothers and grandmother.”

A performer of stories that delve into all elements of a contemporary phenomenon, Ndiaye does not shield his audience from the real emotional, mental and occasionally fatal effects of migration. However, drawing from his own experience immigrating to France, he spoke of the importance of perseverance, determination and continued hope for a better future. 

“When you look toward the light, the shadow is always going to be behind you,” Ndiaye said.  

Editor’s note: Ndiaye’s quotes were originally in French and have been translated here by the reporter.




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