Students take part in an African Dance workshop led by guest artist Samba Diallo that is a part of the World Music and Dance Festival at Ohio University. (WOUB Public Media/Zane Wilson)

8th Annual World Music and Dance Diversity Concert Set for April 6

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For the past eight years the annual World Music and Dance Festival has been bringing international culture to Ohio University’s Athens campus. The event, which takes place in spring semester towards the end of March, is organized by Zelma Badu-Younge (professor of African, modern, and jazz dance techniques, choreography, dance ethnography, and world culture) and Paschal Yao Younge (professor of multicultural musical education) of the Ohio University College of Fine Arts.

This year the festival started on Monday, March 26 and will continue through Friday, April 6, culminating with the Diversity Concert scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Templeton-Blackburn Alumni Memorial Auditorium the final Friday of the festival. The concert will feature special guests Keith Moone, Eric Paton, Samba Diallo, Caph Guei, Tom Berich, Azaguno, Piscataway Indian Nation Singers and Dancers, and the Alexander High School Percussion Ensemble. The show will also include performances from the following Ohio University ensembles: Steel Band Ensemble, African Ensemble, Taiko Ensemble, New Chords on the Block, and the Largemouth Brass Band.

All festival long cultural expressions in the form of dance and music have been explored by various workshops around campus. These include African dance, steel band, taiko ensemble, and much more.

Guest artist Samba Diallo teaches students during an African dance workshop. (WOUB Public Media/Zane Wilson)

“Music and dance are a cultural phenomena,” said Paschal. “Every culture has them, and every ethnic group has their individual approaches to them. This festival and the concert are our way of getting students, at a very young age, exposed to other cultures.”

For the first time Alexander High School will be participating in the concert in the form of an African Percussion Ensemble, a collaboration that came to be because the director of the Alexander High School band happened to be taking one of Paschal’s Ohio University classes.

“As we were planning the festival this year, I was thinking to myself, how can we involve the larger Athens community, how can we get young people involved?” said Paschal. “This collaboration was like manna from heaven, the high school was very interested, and right now they have all of our African drums. I go every Tuesday and Thursday to rehearse with the students. They were a bit shy at first, but now they are very proud of what they will be doing in the concert. This is our way of exposing them to something different about Africa than what they may hear on the news, like ‘oh, Africa is impoverished, oh, Africa has serious problems with disease,’ we want them to learn about Africa through the arts.”

Guest artist Samba Diallo teaches students during an African dance workshop. (WOUB Public Media/Zane Wilson)

Zelma has been a faculty member at Ohio University for 15 years, and Paschal for 13, and throughout their careers they have worked diligently to broaden cultural horizons for Ohio University students.

“Most people in this area just grow up with western music – with the marching band, with The Beatles, with xylophone and piano – and some cultures have not even seen a piano before. There are so many different types of music, and they come from all these different cultures, and we just didn’t see that being represented in any way,” said Paschal. “Our new university president wants to emphasize globalization and diversity, and this festival is our way, from the College of Fine Arts, to diversify what we offer to our students. We (Zelma and Paschal) travel all over the world teaching, and if you go to a place like Asia, they are teaching all types of music in schools. So a student who grew up in Asia may come over to the United States and enroll in Ohio University and then they get here and all that representation is gone. In other places they teach hip-hop, they have different types of music integrated into the curriculum. Students from other places come here and they see that not even jazz is represented in the classroom, rock ‘n’ roll is not taught.”

“What we have realized, in our time teaching here, is that many of the students here may have never even been outside of Ohio,” said Zelma. “Although we are a part of programs that allow students to travel to Africa, to Ghana, all over the world, we see that there is little diversity in what is being taught here in the classroom. The issue is that oftentimes there is a tendency to look at other cultures, like African culture, and to see it as somehow not sophisticated, while in reality it is very sophisticated. For example, I was working with my dance students and I showed them a video of an African dance, and initially they said that they thought it would be very easy to do, but once they started to try, they realized that it was incredibly difficult and complex. We want to showcase the fact that cultures other than western ones are equally sophisticated and valuable. We give students an opportunity to learn about other cultures by traveling around the globe, but we also provide it right here on campus. I guess you could say we are dedicated.”