Dancers in Nafadji

A change of pace


A s we crawl out of the taxi the sound of booming drums and stomping feet rolls over us like distant thunder. I crane my neck, searching for the source in the heavens above. A few moments later a nearby gate opens and my friend Phil emerges. A few greetings and he ushers us inside, leading us up a narrow staircase.

“Watch the steps” he warns. Sound advice, as each one seems to be a different height and width than the others. A few moments later we emerge onto a 4th floor rooftop overlooking the hilly neighborhood of Nafadji, on the outskirts of Bamako. It’s not quite the heavens, but it’s high up nonetheless.

Off to our right: the source of the thunder. A tiny room, inside which a half dozen drummers and a dozen dancers are pounding out a new routine, pausing occasionally to work out the details. They spin and jump and drum, occasionally pausing to yell at each other as they work the kinks out of their new piece. The small space and heavy wooden floors turn the room into a kind of giant sub-woofer, projecting the sounds out over the suburbs.

We’re at the headquarters of a dance troupe based in Bamako. The troupe has no official name, the closest you’ get is Yiridon, the name of the building they practice in.

I’m invited to take pictures as I please, and I do just that. There is almost no free space in the room, so I cram myself into a corner between a wall and a bass drum. The room is sweltering — no power means no fans, and streams of sweat glisten on the faces of the dancers. Within moments beads are running down my face as well.

I take pictures as they go through their routines, and I can’t help but feel good about it. So much of what has been said and shown of Mali in the past year has been negative, it’s easy to forget that Mali is, at its heart, a country filled with incredible, passionate people. My time there was short, but I hope to return as often as possible. There’s a story there. Short or long, picture or video, I don’t know yet, but there’s something. Hopefully something uplifting, for a change.

1 Comment

  1. Dancing on the Roof of Nafaji

    […] There is enormous talent at Yeredon and I want as many people as possible to become familiar with the creative work being done here. To that end, I am collaborating with the center on a few projects, including a tribute to cousinage through dance (see more on this here), and I am inviting anyone I know to come visit, especially those people who take pretty pictures (see photojournalist Thomas Martinez’s beautiful photos of the dancers here). […]


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