What is Mandé, and why do people love it so much?

I first heard of Mandé when I went on a tour of Brown. Our tour guide told us it was one of the most popular classes and a must take for all students. I remember watching students practicing their steps through the halls of Keeney my freshman year, and I remember watching the final performance on what was then Lincoln Field (now Simmons Quad) on a beautiful day in May.

I always knew I had to take Mandé, but it wasn’t until I actually registered for the class this semester that I understood why it’s so beloved. So for all of those curious about this dance class that is more than a dance class, I’m here to tell you what Mandé is all about (warning: this class is ever-growing and changing — this post is only about what Mandé is like this year, some small structural things could change in future years).

Mandé is a Theater Arts and Performance Studies (TAPS) class with over 100 students that aims to teach both the dance styles and culture of the Mandé ethnic groups of Western Africa—Mali specifically. It’s more of a community than a class, and there is an innate bond that you form with those you meet who have taken Mandé. As Justin Harris ’15 told me of his experience when he took the class as a freshman:

It’s a class about expression and cultural enrichment. It gives a full view on liberal learning, as you learn with your mind and your body. It’s a class that tries to influence you beyond the bounds of education. It’s more than just a dance class; you get so much more out of it. More satisfaction.

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You hear that? No, it’s not the Brown Band, it’s the Rhythm of Change!

Not to get mushy or preachy, but this is the kind of story that makes us smile. We willfully admit that all three of us are currently in the Mande class, but note that we’d be happy to have written this article sans names attached. We’re not vying for credit (it’s mandétory S/NC anyway) or anything like that. This is a really great story about Brown students using their voices to do something for a greater good, the artists, the festival, the students and for the love of Mande (yes!).

“The Malians say that one bird is silent; a flock of birds make a lot of noise,” says Sophie Shackleton ’09, organizer of this weekend’s Rhythm of Change Festival. Well, in this story, Brown students, faculty and alumni gathered in a flock and made a whole lot of noise—helping to bring three Malian artists to Brown to share their work in the festival.

The Rhythm of Change Festival is, as its poster reads, “a festival for performing arts & social change in Africa & its diaspora.” The festival, organized primarily by Shackleton with the support of TAPS Lecturer Michelle Bach-Coulibaly of the famed Mande class, is set to start off tonight, Friday, March 2, with the Communal Bowl meal and continue throughout the weekend with workshops on dance, drumming, singing, music and social justice work. Lecturers include guests from other Universities and institutions, artists from across the country, and three artists who have come all the way from Mali to share in cross-cultural exchange. Two of these artists had never been to America, one of whom had never left West Africa.

It is within the tale of Djibril Coulibaly, Sali Soumaré and Alhassane Sissoko, the three visiting Malian artists, that an amazing story emerges. As of Feb. 7, Coulibaly and Soumaré were effectively blocked from coming to the US from Mali because their visas were denied. A press release for the Festival explains, after the jump: Continue Reading