African drum and dance troupe highlights Senegal in annual Thanksgiving performance [photos]

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    Thanksgiving weekend has a lot of traditions — besides turkey, there’s the parade and Black Friday shopping.

    Philadelphia is home to another tradition that’s decades strong.

    The Philly-based African dance and drum ensemble Kulu Mele presents a show every year on Thanksgiving weekend.

    This time, they’re focusing on the dance and music of Senegal.

     

    Traditional dance from Senegal. Cuban rhythms. Hip hop. All art forms that thrive, but thousands of miles apart from each other.

    “They’re all connected. They’re cousins,” said Dorothy Wilkie the artistic director of the Kulu Mele ensemble. “Because it all comes from Africa. The rhythms and the beats and the moves are all coming from Africa, so they’re all related.”

    Kulu Mele’s annual show this weekend will highlight those connections, with a program that includes all three. 

    “We’ve had an artist come in, she’s from Senegal but lives in New York now, her name is Marie Basse Wiles and her son Mohomo. And we had them come in and choreograph two dances, traditional dances from Senegal, Saba and Balant,” said Wilkie.

    Zakiyah Cornish is a dancer and the stage manager with Kulu Mele. She says this year’s focus brought a special challenge for the dancers.

    “Senegalese style is an embodiment, a spirit. a very intricate relationship between the drum and the dance,” Cornish said. “For the dancer, it takes a lot of listening, you must be in sync with the music. It’s a style of African dance that’s being lost here in the states.”

    It’s a mission of Kulu Mele to keep these art forms alive. After 40 years with the company, Wilkie is pleased to see a generation coming up behind her with the same commitment.

    “I just call myself ‘passing the torch.’ You know, keeping the culture alive. That’s what Kulu Mele is about. I’m not an ancestor, but it’s passing the torch,” she said.

    Kulu Mele African Dance and Drum Ensemble will perform Saturday and Sunday at the Painted Bride Art Center.

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