KITTERY, Maine — Wearing a white T-shirt that read “Mommin’ ain’t easy,” while bouncing her young daughter on her back, India Wardell tried her hand at West African dance Thursday evening in a perfect fashion.
Under a luminous August sun, members of Seacoast West African Dance and Drum lit up a crowd in the Rice Public Library’s gardens with unrivaled sounds that filled the Foreside neighborhood.
If you drum, they will come. That’s been the library’s philosophy as far as getting people to attend the unique performances. Little advertising required, the drumming and singing draws in crowds who otherwise had no intention of attending a display of West African culture on any particular evening. But they hear it, and they go.
“It’s such a draw, and people respond intrinsically to it,” Library Director Lee Perkins said. “People hear the drumming and say, ‘I wanna go, I wanna stop by.’”
For Brian Marston, of Lyman, that’s just what happened.
“A few weeks ago I was coming out of work and I heard the music coming out of the Dance Hall,” he said. Every Thursday, the dance and drum troop holds classes in the entertainment space on Walker Street.
Marston wasn’t able to stop in that particular evening, but as a musician himself, he said he would find the music again. It was his first time seeing the group on Thursday.
“I’m going to sit back and listen, see if there’s a way I can muscle my way in with them,” he said.
And muscle in he did. When audience participation was invited, Marston slid into the group and pulled a flute from his pocket, seamlessly pairing a melody with the existing percussion.
Seacoast West African Dance and Drum is led by Liz Fowler and Namory Keita. Fowler has studied West African dance for nearly 25 years alongside teachers from all over the world, while Keita immigrated to the U.S. in 2012 from Guinea, where he was the lead drummer for his village of Sangbarala.
Youth services librarian Jennifer Kelley said the library starting hosting the group when they, too, began to hear the music coming from the Dance Hall on Thursdays.
“It’s very uplifting,” Kelley said. “It’s filled with joy and really lifts your spirits up.”
“The rhythm of the drums, it just gets you,” she added.