Diassing Kunda brings Senegalese culture to Xavier

Jazz festival activities moved from the Fairground to the University Center for the 50th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival as international acts travelled across the interstate to also share culture and music with Xavier students. Senegalese band Diassing Kunda, whose music features a traditional mandingo sound, entertained students and educated them about African drumming during their visit to the city for Jazz Fest where they performed at the Cultural Exchange Pavillion on April 25, 2019.  

It was the band’s first international debut and while Afropop is becoming well known, the group’s authentic sound of traditional Afrobeats sets it apart from well known cross-over groups from Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. They shared the style of their mandingo rhythms with Xavier students on the University Center yard on Wednesday, April 24, 2019. The event was organized by Dr. Charity Clay, an assistant professor of sociology, who has led student and faculty programs to Senegal, and sponsored by the African American and Diaspora Studies program and the Center for Intercultural and International programs.

“These are my brothers. It’s their first time being in America, first time on a plane, first time out of the country playing their music,” said Diali Cissokho, who is Senegalese, and has been living in the U.S. for 10 years but has traveled back and forth between both countries. Cissokho speaks up to 12 languages and helps the group get around without any problems with translation. He said he was very proud of his brothers.

“We all come from the same family and continue our tradition. Our father used to tell us always practice and stay prepared for one day a big moment,” Cissokho translated for one of the other brothers, Yousoupha Cissokho, who he said hasn’t yet tackled English. He shared that back home in Senegal they would play at restaurants, hotels, and live performances but never thought one day they could bring their music to the U.S.

“I’m proud of all of us and where we’ve came from, and now we’re ready to show the world our music,” Yousoupha shared.

Students should be able to connect more with their African heritage, said Clay, who is the head of the concentration in crime and social justice at Xavier. She said it was a natural fit to invite the band to campus for sutdents to learn about Senegal, where she has traveled, and connected with artists and faculty through a mutual colleague who studies the U.S. Constitution and the effects it has on African-Americans.

“Little by little, I want to introduce African culture to this campus and give students a taste of what it means to hold on to our African roots,” Clay said.

She wants to expand these experiences for students and open up partnerships and opportunities for HBCU students to study abroad in African countries and get away from identifying with only Western culture. She said that young Black people today are mostly disconnected from African culture and she shared that such experiences can go a long way to break the stigma and misconceptions held between Africans and African-Americans.

“The ultimate goal is to get students from Senegal to study here and students from here to study in Senegal and exchange cultures,” Clay said.

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