Flashback : Togo Chronicles - Day 2 - Dagbeneva, Dance & Concert

Updated: Feb 27

What a day! Up at 7 - surprisingly before my alarm. Quick, slightly overpriced hotel breakfast, then a stop at the Embassy where a mechanical problem with the originally planned vehicle slowly eats up our time-margin while they sort out an alternative. The delay does give us an impromptu opportunity to visit the brand-spankin' new Embassy (a cookie-cutter copy of the one that just opened in Djibouti as well - just different art).

Originally Posted by Keri Chryst on January 31, 2012 at 6:45 PM


On the road

A 90 minute drive through the countryside, is enough time to finally have a proper pow-wow with the Embassy staff about the schedule for the week. We're on our way to Kpalimé (silent K) to meet with the Dagbeneva dance and drum ensemble. After a quick courtesy call to the local Prefet, we pull into the parking lot for the C.I.A.... Carrefour International d'Arts (International Crossroads for the Arts - pictured below) - a local non-profit group striving to be a local and international resource for traditional arts.

Carrefour International d'Arts (International Crossroads for the Arts - Kpalime, Togo

The place is cheery, and has a sense of love and care about it. The people we meet first are just as cheery, founder Kossi Akakpovi and his trusted partner Momo Ategou - the rest of the dancers and musicians are a bit quieter and shy at first... until we suggest that they show us what they can do. This brightens them up immediately, and we adjourn to a shaded area where a veritable battery of hand-made percussion instruments are set up.

Dagbeneva in action!

Let's face the music and DANCE

One gentlemen lets out a cry/call which signals a particular rhythm and dance, and I whip out my video camera immediately to film their demonstration. These guys are GOOD!! Gals too ;-) And I suddenly realize I want to dance with them TOO!! So, they show us a couple of their typical dances, and we in turn play a couple of our tunes for them to show what it is we do, and then we start talking about how we can collaborate.


We still have a good half an hour before our lunch call, so I suggest we use the time wisely for them to show me one of their "easier" dances - I request that it be not so easy that it be "dumb", but easy enough that I only have a handful of steps to remember. After all, the concert is tonight at 5pm, so I don't have a lot of time to learn anything!


We settle on a dance that requires about 4 or 5 different steps, and run through it a few times until we're all satisfied that I'll be able to handle it well enough, if I just keep my eyes on Selom in front of me ;-)

Lunch - and introduction to Fou Fou

Then it's off to a quick lunch of Foufou with Gineau Fowl sauce at a local hang out, before heading back into town for an extra bit of rehearsal and sound check. Over lunch, Jeff and I came up with a set list we think will work really well with the D'agbeneva folks, so we do a quick run through of "A Train", "Work Song" and (Jeff's last minute inspiration) Ray Charles' "That's What I Say".


A quick run back to the hotel to change clothes, and we're ready for the show. We'll be performing in front of a collection of students and teachers who have been invited due to their affiliation with the local High School English clubs.


Show Time!

Local Dance troupe Dagbeneva warms up the crowd — And how!

The dance troupe opens with a flurry of brightly colored costumes, and amazingly choreographed high energy numbers. I join them for the one we worked on together - I've requested that I dance with them somewhere in the middle of their part of the program, 'cause I don't want to be too out of breath before we start our own bit. And boy am I glad that a) I insisted on that, and b) that I borrowed some of their costumes for the number... because it is HOT here, they're ALL already dripping with sweat... AND apparently the tempo we practiced at was about 30% slower than the real tempo!


The audience's first glimpse of Keri on stage... Surprise appearance stepping with the Dagbeneva gang!

So before you know it, that bit's done, and I'm back stage again, catching my breath and wiping my brow. I'm kinda jealous though of the German volunteer girls who have been practicing with them for months and who get to participate on all the dances ;-)

Roots 66 and all that Jazz

So, after a touching poem by one of the English students, Jeff and I take the stage for our bit. At the Embassy's urging, we've decided on the "Route 66 - American Tour" program - but start off, as has become our custom, with our old standby "Duke's Place" ("C Jam Blues"). The gang from Dagbeneva has done such a great job of warming up the audience (literally!!) that they're itching to participate too - so we get them singing right away :-)

"Route 66" (with the visual aid of a U.S. map, thanks to the Embassy staff), "Chicago, Chicago", "Georgia On My Mind", "New York, New York".... and we're ready to bring the percussionists back out to help us bring a bit o' rhythm to the "A Train". This goes over like gangbusters both for the audience, and for the drummers.


Cross-Cultural Collaboration - Whoot!

Then, with "Work Song", we give everyone on stage a little more room to dance and participate - including a little trade off between Jeff and their fearless leader Kossi. By the time we lay into "What'd I Say", the crowd is on it's feet and Oh-ing and Ah-ing along with us with no need for the least bit of prompting. In fact, when the song is technically over - they're STILL Oh-ing and Ah-ing... so it's all we can do to just lay on back into the song for another round before closing it out a SECOND time :-)


We then turn the stage back over to Dagbeneva who does another 20-30 minutes of amazing and impressive performance. Now that I'm watching from up front, rather than the wings, I have a chance to fully appreciate the intricacies and precision of their rhythmic counterpoint, and it's relation to the calls of the dance moves and meaning. Really - WOW is all I can say!!

" as they were leaving the building, the students could be heard singing the opening strains of "Duke's Place"... Doo-dap.... Doo-dap, Doo-dap, Doooooooo-DAP! "

They eventually wrap up their part of the show, and we do a few quick photos and interviews with local radio before calling it a night. One of the English clubs has gone out of their way to offer me a small token of their thanks - a handcarved comb with the continent of Africa on it! I am very touched. And if the goal was to leave them all singing a song, apparently we did - we're told that as they were leaving the building, the students could be heard singing the opening strains of "Duke's Place"... Doo-dap.... Doo-dap, Doo-dap, Doooooooo-DAP! Mission accomplished!! Hilary Clinton would be proud ;-)