A Senegalese drummer steps forward and dives into a solo on top of the main rhythm held steady by the beat of the dundun. His long dreadlocks start to fall forward over his face. He brushes them back while bracing the djembe drum between his legs as sweat drips from his forehead to his forearm muscles that bulge under the strain of a purely musical trance. Two females break into a dance battle; one woman pumping her legs, jumping twice then dropping low and whipping her braided and beaded hair in circles only to then stare in rivalry at the other.
This is Dans Afrika, Istanbul’s first and only African drumming and dance group, mostly composed of members from Senegal and Guinea and entirely united by a mutual passion for the music. Surprisingly, the sole Turk of the group and the manager, Inci Turan brought the concept to Turkey after spending several years in New York City where she regularly attended African dance fitness classes. Upon moving back to Istanbul in 2005, she missed the classes so much she began teaching them herself.
The group's music director and Inci's partner, Guershon (Sean) Jocelyn, a New Yorker of Haitian and African descent, was introduced to the music through Inci. He quickly fell in love with the drums and the connection it provided to his roots. Jocelyn’s rhythmic passion led him back to Senegal in 2011 where, under the guidance of professional musicians such as master Balaphonist Kandioura Diabate, he acquired a deeper understanding of the music and a rejuvenated drive to make Dans Afrika a success.
Soon after returning to Istanbul, Sean extended a helping hand to the same drummers he had met back in Senegal, Kandioura, Salif Peker, and Ibrahim Iradiaw. They had come to Istanbul as part of a Senegalese day performance in Sultanahmet. Sean and Inci aided them in finding a home and gave them the opportunity to continue playing music with Dans Afrika. Later on, two professionally trained Senegalese dancers, Mimi and Zita, who came to Turkey to earn a better living, joined the group, adding mesmerizing visuals to the deep rhythm of the drums.
Another drummer, Alasanne Diop, a Rastafarian of Senegalese descent, lived in Paris, North Korea and Hong Kong prior to Istanbul, where he performed and taught African drumming. Hoping to one day support himself entirely from drumming, he simply said “for me, I just want all the Turks and people living in Istanbul to hear about us, come see what we are doing and appreciate what we are bringing here culturally.” The master balaphone player, Kandioura Diabate comes from a GRIOT family, who tell their history to the next generations through music and dance, and is the cousin of famous Kakosali Diabate. Kakosali, who trained Kandioura, is the famous balaphone player of the first African Dance company Les Ballet Africaines (Guinea National Dance Company) that made African dance and music popular around the world.
Today, given this pool of talent, Dans Afrika has reached a new level. They practice regularly, teach two classes per week, and are building a pipeline of upcoming performances. The group is doing something truly remarkable – importing African culture to Turkey in a raw, authentic and fun way. They do it out of love, not for money or out of necessity, making it something worth supporting.
Their next performance is on Tuesday, May 22 at Cuba Bar in Asmali Mescit. They also teach dance and drumming on Sundays in Taksim. You can find out more about classes and upcoming shows at www.afrikadansi.com or send an email to [email protected].