Senegal dancer and drummer brings rhythm to Sullivan Apartments youth
From the west African country of Senegal, performing artist Abdou Sarr has brought lessons of rhythm, responsibility and respect to children at Springfield Housing Authority’s Sullivan Apartments.
Oh, and add to that a whole lot of fun.
The dozen children who participated from the summer youth program enjoyed weekly visits from Sarr, who divides his time between Millers Falls, Mass., and Senegal, where the 38-year-old has been singing, drumming and dancing since he could walk and talk.
The sessions, which spanned music and dance skills as well as life lessons on the importance of family, respect hard work, culminated in a recent performance that illustrated children’s dedication as well as their love of a good time.
“I love to dance, and this is so much fun,” said 10-year-old Dasany Lester, who is a regular at the Sullivan youth program. “When you’re dancing, you have so much energy. I like this because it’s different than any kind of dancing I’ve ever done.”
Dasany appeared to speak on behalf of all children, whose coordinated and precise moves could only be described as joyful. Each dancer carried a full-on smile as they recreated the moves and sang out the Senegalese tunes they had been rehearsing for weeks.
His visits to Sullivan came courtesy of SHA’s Resident Services program. Karen Guillette, who works with after-school and summer providers to infuse more literacy into activities, invited her friend Sarr to provide the program. Sarr has worked with children at elementary and middle schools in the area, including in Springfield.
The performance attracted an audience that included many parents and SHA employees.
“I thought it was great,” said Resident Services Director Pamela Wells.
“The children really enjoyed learning the dance and hearing about Senegal. It is always rewarding to be able to open the world a little bit wider to the kids in our summer,” she added.
Sarr used his djembe, a goblet-shaped drum that is among Africa’s most common percussion instruments. Sitting on a low stool with his djembe in front of him on the floor, Sarr beat out a catchy rhythm that instantly got children instantly, both in song and dance.
The songs he taught them are used in Senegal to accompany celebration and offer welcome, he said.
“In Senegal, if there is any kind of celebration, you will hear these songs,” he explained to parents who visited the community room at Sullivan for the show. “I’ve been teaching them basic Senegal songs and dance. If you are from Senegal, you will sing these song a lot.”
The performance began with a musical introduction, in which children sang out their names individually, and moved on to more synchronized moves. Sarr later showed some of his more advanced dance moves, warning the fascinated children not to try them, and answered questions posed by both children and adults.
He told the audience that in addition to song and dance, he taught children some basic Senegalese, including “hello,” “mother,” “father” and “welcome.”
“We talked about a lot of things,” he said. “I believe it’s very important to learn about other cultures. It teaches you about respect and understanding.”
Nine-year-old Jose Fernandez said the sessions with Sarr were nothing short of fantastic.
“The dancing is great,” Jose said. “We learned a lot of new things about dancing and how people live in Senegal. Everyone loves to dance.”