A friend sent me this video – and I agree that the Burundi Drummers are marvelous, but there are many things amiss in this video. Please watch it and then read the comments below if you care to.
I was enjoying the video until the camera panned to the European folks standing center stage gleefully exuding expectation – expectation of satisfaction…of some sort. And then the camera keeps panning to reveal (by accident, I believe) – the gathering of black folks in the margins of the space watching the entire exchange rather skeptically.
If the drums don’t make babies dance, then one really must wonder about the entire enterprise. ~Kelly Gabron
And please notice — at about 03:18 into the video– the little ENGLISH jig(!) they did, smiling wide and directing their gaze right at the European people! This, I thought, was the sublime 5 second moment of resistance, of futile irony, that is so characteristic of African-AMERICAN performance. In the middle of the amazing and “authentic” percussion performance, the two most facile dancers bust a move all too reminiscent of the fraught and giggly scenarios that Jane Austin describes around and her recalcitrant yet surprisingly agile Mr. Darcy! These Burundi drummers slipped the mockery (of themselves and their Euro-payday-spectators) without notice.
And did you peep the men, dressed in the same red/white/green/ broadcloth togas who had no drums and barely knew the dances?! They stood behind the real performers pantomiming percussive action. Dave Chapelle works hard for such perversity!
For whom was this beautiful display?
Is this the minstrel show of the new millennium?
The redemption here is the fact that those drummers, like the minstrels of North America (Bert Williams, etc), are truly brilliant and are, in fact, most likely developing a modern theatrical language for their country and continent that scholars will enjoy unpacking, and audiences will enjoy consuming for decades to come.
All I am saying is that while the talent of the performers is painfully evident – so is the cynicism and exploitation.
So what happens when I rent buses to carry Rich South High School Marching Band all the way up to Wicker Park? Will the spectators risk sun burn to observe the authenticity of black American creative ingenuity only to misread the performance as an living exhibit rather than a social distortion?
Seen and heard. My marching bands must be seen, and heard — and seen and felt. Detached, expectant observation is not acceptable. Participation – submission(!) to the sine waves of the sounds – is the only acceptable response.