by Kim Childs, CPPC
In the fall of 1996, I was invited to visit my friend Liz in Zimbabwe, where she was doing economic development work. I jumped at the chance to make my first trip to Africa, and arranged to fly from New York to London to Harare, the capitol of Zimbabwe. Not long after we left London, I fell asleep. When I awoke a few hours later, I looked out the window and saw orange lights below. Confused as to why I could still see the ground, I asked the flight attendant where we were.
“Those are gas flares from the Algerian oil wells,” she told me. As I realized that I was flying over the African continent, I started to cry. Something deep inside me felt like it was coming home.
The journey to that moment (in this lifetime, anyway) began in 1988, when I met the masterful Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji at the Omega Institute in upstate New York. A voice student there at the time, I got to sample Olatunji’s powerful drum and dance classes, and I was hooked. When I returned to New Jersey, I fortuitously stumbled upon a new African drum class that was meeting above the local health food store. We became a performing ensemble and gave ourselves the ironic name Drums and Roses.
The ensemble eventually broke up, but my love affair with African drumming and music was on for life, embracing many styles over the years, and introducing me to such iconic artists as Fela Kuti, King Sunny Ade, Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Oumou Sangare, and so many others.
In Zimbabwe, I went to clubs and outdoor concerts to dance and hear the legendary performers Thomas Mapfumo and Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi. I became smitten with the hypnotic music played on the mbira, or thumb piano, and delighted in the infectious pop music played in buses and taxis. Although the country has suffered terribly under the AIDS epidemic and its despotic leader, the Zimbabweans I met were warm and sunny, the land was majestic, and the wild giraffes, zebras and elephants made me squeal like a child.
My passion for African music is one reason I went to Morocco in 2002 for the annual Sacred Music Festival in Fez. I even stayed an extra week to attend the traditional gnawa music festival in the coastal town of Essaouira. Morocco, with its seductive blend of African, Arab and European cultures, colors, textiles, spices and sounds, was a feast for all of my senses. And in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks, many of the people we met in this Muslim-majority country were grateful for our tourism.
In 2005, my affection and concern for Africans led me to volunteer with an organization that was serving the Sudanese refugees who’d landed in the Boston area. I was assigned to help a young family in a nearby town and I grew to love and admire them, and all the other refugees, for their incredible resilience and dignity in the face of unimaginable challenges and losses. To this day, I feel like a proud and lucky adopted member of the South Sudanese community that has blossomed around me.
It was drumming that took me back to Africa in 2007, when I followed my Senegalese teacher to Dakar to learn more about the complex drum and dance styles of his country. Two days into that trip, I met the sweet man I would later marry. Although the marriage did not survive our differences and difficulties, the love did, and we are forever family to each other. I’ve learned firsthand the about the hardships and heartbreak of African immigrants abroad, the generosity of African love and family, and the famous teranga – hospitality – of the gracious Senegalese people.
My next destination is South Africa, where I’ll spend three weeks in August performing all over the country with my delightful chorus, Sharing a New Song. Our itinerary includes joint concerts and informal singalongs with South Africans, a possible workshop with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, sightseeing, cultural exchanges, whale and penguin watching, a trip to the infamous Robben Island, and a three-night stay with the lions in Kruger National Park (Oh my!).
I wonder…what magic awaits me this time in the southernmost tip of that vast, rich and exotic continent?
What or where is your “Africa”? Is there a place, culture or music that resonates with your very soul? How have you followed that call? I’d love to hear about it if you care to share in the comments below.
Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and soulful living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free initial consultation in person or via phone or Skype.