by Catriona Mitchell
Ubud may be a multi-cultural kind of a place, but it’s not every day you meet a musician and dancer fresh off the plane from Burkina Faso, in traditional dress, grinning broadly, and eager to share his cultural traditions with the new people he encounters, even giving a live demonstration right there in the coffee shop.
Thirty-one year-old Lassina Ouattara, or “Lasso”, hails from the second biggest city in Burkina Faso – Bobo-Dioulasso – and more specifically from the Quartier Bolomakote, the district that has a higher density of musicians than any other in West Africa.
The man couldn’t have escaped a musical path even if he’d wanted to. He’s from an enormous extended family of griots (West African storytellers, poets, singers and/or musicians, working in an oral tradition): his grandfather had three wives and there are 100 immediate family members, and all of them are musicians. Passing on the musical traditions is considered an ordinary part of life: Lasso learned djembe from his brothers when he was very young, and dance lessons quickly followed. He was taught the traditional dances not only from his home-village, but those stemming from the different language groups around the country and since then, has been performing regularly at weddings, baptisms, funerals, festivals and concerts ever since.
Music and dance are an honoured and essential part of African community life, for men, women and children. “It’s integrated in Burkina Faso,” Lasso confirms, speaking in a slow drawl in French. “It’s a way of keeping the culture alive. There are many festivals. There is also much music from neighbouring countries – Cote d’Ivoire, Mali – they use a similar rhythm. In the streets, in my district, every day there is music: lots of small cabarets, traditional music…”
He’s suffering little culture shock here, he says, despite the fact that this is the first time he’s ventured outside of Africa, because he’s finding a similar appreciation of music and dance here in Ubud.
Then he leaps out of his seat to give me an on-the-spot dance demonstration, and I’m slapped awake by the immediate shift of energy in the room. Lasso moves with instant vigour, with boundless energy and grace. He’s been looking slightly jet-lagged during our initial conversation, but the moment he moves his whole being springs to life, and I’m reminded of how powerful and transporting it is to watch someone who’s entirely attuned to rhythm. There’s no music for him to move to right now, but he doesn’t need it; he’s moving to an innate inner beat.
He’s all about rhythm. And not only the expression of rhythm, but the celebration of it.
Lasso arrived in Bali under a week ago, and is gearing up for his first West African dance workshop to be held at Taksu this Sunday; then through June he’ll be presenting a suite of classes and musical collaborations with other performers including Afronesia, visiting African dance teacher Baba Kahuna, and Bali Spirit’s Music Director, music producer Rob Weber.
He first heard about Bali from long-time Ubud resident Jen Richardson, who visited one of Lasso’s family members at his village, staying in “la maison de la grande famille” (the “big family house” – an extended family grouping quite similar to a Balinese compound). After that visit Jen wrote a post on Facebook, declaring that she wanted to return with people interested in taking djembe and dance classes, to help Lasso’s village. Within ten minutes, Rob Weber had responded, making a personal musical pilgrimage soon afterwards to study four different instruments as well as various dance traditions, with Lasso and other local teachers.
Lasso works frequently with children in Burkina Faso, and there are plans to work with local children here, in programs organized by Yayasan Kryasta Guna (the cultural awareness, non-profit arm of the Bali Spirit Festival); Lasso is here as part of a cultural exchange program between the yayasan and Burkina’s Association Bolo’Art, and his work will raise funds for both cultural organisations.
As part of that cultural exchange, he’ll also offer an introduction to African music for adults, holding regular classes in Ubud so that his students not only get a taste of his dance practices, but a real chance to follow up and learn in more detail. At his first workshop he’ll teach Dembadon, a dance in celebration of mothers (everyone dances this, not women exclusively), and later on, he’ll teach the Djouladon, Bobo, Mossi, Gourousi, and other ethnic dances connected to different language groups in his country.
Lasso brought a hand-made instrument with him to Bali, to sell on behalf of the maker: it’s a ‘ngoni’, a 12-stringed instrument based on a calabash, similar to the kora. Also, Jen Richardson has a range of West African batiks for sale on behalf of the village, soon to be displayed at Rendezvous Doux in Jl Jembawan. If interested in these or in information about classes in dance, song or percussion (djembe and dundun) over the coming months, please contact Jen at email@example.com.
For info on Lasso’s first workshop in Ubud, to be held this Sunday 2nd June at 4pm, see www.ubudnowandthen.com/events