Students learn African culture through Senegalese dance and drums

Reiko Kanazawa

Dance instructors from Senegal visited CSUN’s Satellite Student Union on Wednesday night to teach students African dances as part of the African Week.

Dance performer and instructor Oumar ‘Niancho’ Sanneh taught students unique steps and routines of African dance without musical accompaniment. After students got used to the steps, he and his partner played drums for students to dance along with.

‘This is my first time (to take African dance class), but I had fun and learned a lot,’ said Peter Haddad, a senior marketing major.

‘I love it. I love to dance. I took African dance class before. This is my second time,’ said senior psychology major Victoria Combre.

According to event organizer, Yamrot Amha, a biotechnology sophomore from Ethiopia, the class was organized to introduce and advertise African dance for better understanding and to celebrate the culture.

‘There are different types of drums in every African country. They have different rhythms and beats. You can’t even count how many kinds of beats we have. The instructors are from Senegal, so they play more Senegal with African beat,’ said Amha.

According to Sanneh, dancing with beats of drums is popular in African countries. The drums particularly played in class are called Djun-Djun and Djembe, which is common in West Africa, Guinea, Mali and Senegal, he said.’ ‘

Djun-Djun is the bass drum that is played alongside the Djembe. There are different variations on how the Djun-Djun is played throughout West Africa. The Djembe is a goat-skin covered hand drum, which is shaped like a large goblet. It is played with bare hands, and produces a wide range of tones.

Since Sanneh started to dance at the age of six with a small group in the neighborhood in Dakar, Senegal, he learned from and emulated leading dancers of local and regional companies.’ His formal dance education began in 1992 after being accepted into the Bougarabou Dance Company and he performed with them for nine years.

With his energetic and powerful performance and teaching style, he has been active as a performer and an instructor at many high schools and universities.

Sanneh and his wife started their own dance company, Niancho Eniyaley (‘Warrior, open your eyes’), and they teach drum and dance classes in Pasadena and Los Angeles.

‘I just came (to CSUN) to share my culture and performance too,’ said Sanneh.

According to Amha, the whole purpose of African Week is to show people, especially students, different aspects of Africa.

‘It means a lot to me. It’s very important. I know how people feel about Africa,’ said Amha . ‘They only see the problems and poverty, but we have so many beautiful things they don’t really know about. We have so much resources, culture and tradition.’