This album is part of a community-engaged research-creation program led collaboratively by the internationally acclaimed musician and virtuoso balafón player Lassana Diabaté and ethnomusicologist Marcia Ostashewski, Director of The Centre for Sound Communities at Cape Breton University. Since 2014, they have been working together on multiple community-engaged research-creation projects facilitated by partnerships with public libraries, and African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw community leaders and organizations in Cape Breton and Halifax. These collaborative projects have involved teaching, research, and creative practices that bridge gaps between university and wider community spaces; they have been funded by the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada; Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage - African Nova Scotian Affairs; Fulbright Canada; MITACS; and CLARI, community-engaged research support based at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. These collective efforts have led to numerous academic publications, workshops, lecture-demonstrations, the production of films, and digital learning resources routinely used in schools and universities.
Since 2014, Lassana’s artistic creativity, his musical talent, and his commitment to raise awareness about his musical traditions have enabled him to communicate his centuries-old griot traditions to new audiences and into new contexts in Canada. He has participated in various intercultural artistic and educational events in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia for both African Nova Scotian communities and broader cosmopolitan audiences. His artistic-educational contributions have resulted in an increased awareness and appreciation of the ancient Mande tradition within Cape Breton communities.
Lassana in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia
Since 2014, Lassana has been collaborating with Dr. Marcia Ostashewski, Director of The Centre for Sound Communities at Cape Breton University. Together, they have been working on multiple community-engaged research-creation projects facilitated by partnerships with public libraries, and African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw community leaders and organizations in Cape Breton and Halifax. These projects have involved teaching, research, and creative practices that bridge gaps between university and wider community spaces.
These collaborative community-engaged research-creation projects have been funded by the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada; Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage - African Nova Scotian Affairs; Fulbright Canada; MITACS; and CLARI, community-engaged research support based at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. These collective efforts have led to numerous academic publications, workshops, lecture-demonstrations, film productions and the production of the first full-length balafón-only album, and digital learning resources, including public radio segments, routinely used in schools and universities. In September 2020, the Chicago Public School District integrated these learning materials into instructional resources as part of equity initiatives. Together, Lassana and Marcia also presented the “Creative, Critical Research Through Public Engagement: A Mali-Canada Collaboration” 90-minute workshop at the 2020 Society for Ethnomusicology Annual Meeting where they addressed some of the issues faced by researchers in such collaborative, research-creation projects.
Lassana has completed three residencies at The Centre for Sound Communities as described below.
2014 - The Singing Storytellers Symposium
In 2014, Lassana, together with the Trio Da Kali band’s singer Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté, were invited to Cape Breton to participate in the Singing Storytellers symposium at the University of Cape Breton. Aiming to raise awareness about and celebrate Cape Breton’s ethnocultural diversity, the symposium showcased performers from five continents, traditions related to the diverse local cultural ancestries. As part of the symposium, Lassana performed a concert at the University of Cape Breton and a workshop performance with musicians from other counties for the Celtic Colours International Festival. They also performed and presented the Sunjata epic, one of the most important elements in the Mande song tradition, with the assistance of the Malian professor Cherif Keita. This unique presentation of the traditional Mande Sunjata epic received a warm response from the Canadian audience. It was also filmed for a documentary featured in London at the British Library’s West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song in 2015-16. This research-creation project also led to the publication of a special issue in the journal World of Music (forthcoming) and a book chapter by Marcia Ostashewski.
2017 - Intercultural Learning Events
Lassana returned to Cape Breton in 2017 to participate in a series of intercultural learning events, including performances, workshops, classes, and a film screening held in partnership with the African Nova Scotian communities.
In his collaboration with The Centre for Sound Communities in 2017, he participated in intercultural music-making events with local musicians, performances, and lecture-demonstrations and workshops for Cape Breton youth and music educators. He was also featured in the film “The Sunjata Story: Glimpses of a Mande Epic” at the Global Musics – Local Connections Film Festival. The film provided an abridged performance of the Sunjata epic presented at the Singing Storytellers symposium in 2014.
2019 - Performance, Education, Recording
As part of The Centre for Sound Communities’ community-based arts research project “Songs and Stories in Celebration of the International Decade for People of African Descent,” Lassana visited Cape Breton in 2019.
He participated in a series of interactive events, including public performances, school visits, and studio recording sessions. These events were facilitated by partnership with Support4Culture and several public libraries and community organizations.
2021 - Music Education in the Time of COVID-19
In his latest collaboration with Dr. Ostashewski, Lassana is involved in a new community-engaged research program led and facilitated by teams of leading community music education scholars, ethnomusicologists specializing in applied and practice-based research, community organizations, and Smithsonian Folkways Recordings experts. This research program aims to develop a new model for community music education for historically underserved and underrepresented communities in the time of COVID-19. Focusing on Black and Indigenous musics, the project aims to provide participatory music-making learning opportunities to youth in African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw communities as well as in an Ontario arts high school. The project also aims to develop a new operating model for Lassana’s not-for-profit organization, Association Foli-Lakana, which provides local youth with educational opportunities.