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Lyndeborough

Connected by music

Lyndeborough to Guinea: Students raise funds, lift spirits

  • Abou Sylla performs at Lyndeborough Central School to thank students for their donations to a school in Guinea<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Abou Sylla performs at Lyndeborough Central School to thank students for their donations to a school in Guinea<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Abou Sylla performs at Lyndeborough Central School to thank students for their donations to a school in Guinea<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Abou Sylla performs at Lyndeborough Central School to thank students for their donations to a school in Guinea<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Abou Sylla performs at Lyndeborough Central School to thank students for their donations to a school in Guinea<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Abou Sylla performs at Lyndeborough Central School to thank students for their donations to a school in Guinea<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

N’Camara Abou Sylla came to Lyndeborough Central School on Wednesday to see a good friend, third-grader Jack Snow, and to show his appreciation.

“I’m here to say thank you for this school,” Abou, a 55-year-old musician and singer from Guinea in West Africa who now lives in Jaffrey, told Jack and his fellow third-graders before performing for them. “Jack and his friends raised money for the school of my son in Guinea. You all sent them school supplies and soccer balls. The founder [of the Guinea school] was so amazed. He wants to continue this relationship.”

Abou then stepped behind his balani, a wooden-keyed African instrument that uses gourds for amplification, and struck up a powerful rhythmic melody, accompanied by Andy Algire of New York City on the djembe, an African drum that is played with the hands, and Barbara Levy of Peterborough on djun djun drums, a set of three tuned drums played with sticks.

“Give thanks... Give thanks... Give thanks for this school,” Abou sang, and when the song ended, he walked over to Jack for a hug.

Abou was raised in Guinea in a Djeli family — a group whose heritage is one of music, dancing and oral history. He learned to play the balani, also known as the balafon, as a boy and was hired at the age of 20 to play the instrument with Guinea’s national ballet group, Les Ballets Africains. He toured with them for more than a decade, later joined another touring company in Guinea, then came to New York City in 1996. He formed a group called Feraba that combined the musical rhythms of West Africa and tap dance choreography, and also taught students. Both Algire and Levy learned how to play the African instruments through lessons with Abou.

Abou, who played at the Mariposa Museum in Peterborough in 2010, met Jack Snow when he stayed with Jack’s family for a year. He gave Jack lessons on the balani and told Jack about his 10 children in Africa, including some still in school.

Following Monday’s performance, Jack said Abou’s stories inspired him to raise some money to send much-needed supplies to the school in Guinea. He talked to Joanne VanDeusen, Abou’s manager, who lives in Jaffrey and he also gave a presentation to his classmates, who started bringing in loose change. He said their first efforts brought in more about $200.

“I also sold eggs from our farm,” Jack said. “I would give the money to Joanne. We ordered soccer balls and pens and pencils.”

He said when the class learned Abou was coming to play for them, they decided to help some more.

“I talked to my friends and we just raised another $51,” Jack said. He gave that money to Abou during the show.

Abou had no trouble coaxing Jack and his classmates out of their chairs to try out the instruments. Setting up a rhythm based on a chant of “I... Like... Peanut Butter,” they took turns on the drums, as Jack stepped up on the balani, and everyone, including teachers and parents, followed Abou’s lead singing and clapping.

“These instruments bring us together,” Abou told the students. “I am glad to come here, to bring the happiness to your place.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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