Michelle Kisliuk / Music

African Music – Friday Society – My project will provide an opportunity for current students and alumni to come together to play African music, dance, and discuss local and global issues on a weekly basis (Friday afternoons for about two hours). Once each semester, this group will also host an open party/performance that centers around advanced repertoire and sociability.

Background and Explanation – The music that I teach inextricably links social life and music/dance practice. My “dream project” will further develop this sociomusical link outside of the classroom.

Since 1996 I have directed the UVa African Music and dance Ensemble, (MUEN 369), concentrating on repertoire from two regions:  Ghana/Togo (Ewe), and Central African Republic (Baaka “pygmies”). The course is open to all students in any major (by audition, no experience expected).  Typically, a core group of students stays in the Ensemble for several years, teaching new students the basics, and often returning after graduation for rehearsals, jams, and concerts (several have also traveled to Africa on their own). Some have met with me, ad hoc, outside of class to learn the lead drumming in the Ewe repertoire, or to learn the steps for Elamba, a special Baaka women’s dance. Over the years these core students have requested regular extra meetings outside of class so that advanced players and dancers might refine what they know and bring it to a more intense sociomusical level. For these students, involvement has often gone considerably beyond the music/dance practice itself, affecting their diverse paths in medicine, law, teaching, as professional musicians, or in paths to various graduate programs. The proposed project will solidify that process and offer a concrete context to fortify it.

Membership – Members of the Friday society will be mostly current students and alumni who have been enrolled in the MUEN369 ensemble for at least one previous semester. New people (current MUEN369 students or others from the UVa and Charlottesville community) may be invited to join the sessions if they show unusual promise and dedication.  Faculty and staff with relevant experience (such as Scott deVeaux or I-Jen fang) may also participate in the Friday society.  I expect the group to range between ten and twenty members. The Friday society will normally meet in room 107 Old Cabell Hall, but may occasionally meet at a member’s house.

Outreach to local African community – There has recently been an initiative among core students to collaborate with local African immigrants from the culture groups we study. Many Ewe and Ge (from Ghana and Togo) are employed by UVa (classified staff), and we have created some occasions to come together with them. This project will provide a forum for more such musical get-togethers that reach across class and culture. As in Africa, such a group might also lend social support to members who may experience a life crisis or transition (such as death or illness in the family).

Calendar – During the fall semester of the Endowment year, the weekly Friday society meetings will emphasize advanced Ewe (West African) drumming and dancing. In December the group will host an open party/performance, with special invitations to the local Ewe community and to out-of-town alumni.

Meetings in the spring semester will center around the Baaka women’s dance, Elamba.  The focus will be on intensified interlocked, improvised singing and on refining the dance for those who have been inducted (I was given the authority in Africa to induct others. Note: Both men and women will be welcome to participate — there are roles for all within this tradition). The Elamba open party/performance in the spring will also be a send-off event for graduating students, and a “home coming” opportunity for out of town alumni.

A core performing group and possible lasting effects – I envision that this group will become a core performing group that responds to the many requests I receive every semester to perform at University and community charitable and educational events. The group may offer outreach programs to local schools. I expect the Friday society will also provide a context for discussions about race and culture on grounds. There are other possible lasting outgrowths of this project, such as eventually establishing regular connections with “sister” music societies (clubs) in Ghana/Togo and in Central African Republic (I will research this possibility this summer while in Africa).  I imagine the project might also provide the seed for developing a study abroad, J-term, or alumni service/music-culture trip to Africa.

Use of Funds – I envision approximately half of the Meade Endowment funds supporting light refreshments for some Friday sessions, sponsoring the two party/performances (food, possibly rental fee for a space, some publicity), and occasionally defraying transportation costs to a local performance event.

The other half of the funds might support a fee for a visiting African artist to join the group for a short residency. Normally we will borrow my own instruments and those owned by the Mcintire dept. of Music, but Endowment funds can also support the replacement of some of the small (more breakable) instruments such as shakers, iron bells, or drum sticks, and cover limited instrument  repair materials (drum heads and pegs) and labor as needed. Cloth for simple Friday society performance attire might also be purchased with the funds.

If any funds remain unspent at the end of the year, they could either be used as seed money for an eventual scholar- ship prize competition for a member’s study abroad in Africa.  Alternately, those funds could seed an ongoing self- sustaining general Friday society fund beyond 07-08.  a decision as to how best to use any possible remaining funds would be made in consultation with members of the Friday society at the end of the year.