It’s not hard to understand why Diali (pronounced Jelly) Cissokho is one of the most memorable teaching artists we have here in Chatham. With his brilliantly colored dashiki, booming voice, and 30 drums in tow, he is a commanding presence in the classroom. But Diali didn’t come to Chatham Grove Elementary just to teach drumming. He had some important life-lessons for these fifth graders.
Diali placed a drum between the knees of every kid in the class, and the lessons began. The first one–responsibility. Each student was responsible for the care of their drum while they were in the class. It had to be treated gently, held and played properly.
Next up, learning a few call-and-response drum beats. A thunderous sound echoed through the building, as Diali played different calls, and the kids responded accordingly. This took a lot of work to perfect, but it was a fantastic segue into life-lesson number two–the importance of balance, in both music and life. With one group on one side of the room and one group on the other, Diali encouraged them to hear one another. He had each side play, while the other side listened, so they could hear the importance of working together to create a balance. By performance day, the kids were playing in sync. We’re pretty sure these lessons in balance, listening, and cooperation are going to be useful to these guys for a long time. The drumming might come in handy, too!
With just a couple more life-lessons to go, the kids were coaxed, one by one, to the center of the circle to learn the next one–overcoming the fear of public spectacle. They were going to be performing their newly learned beats for their fellow fifth-graders by the end of the week. While the drum circle pounded, each solo kid in the center of the circle was invited to dance! And did they ever!
Diali’s final life-lesson? The importance of encouragement and support. Leading by example, Diali wildly applauded every single dancer, and the students followed. High-fives were slapped all around the room, and smiles were absolutely everywhere.
Diali also visited fifth-graders at Chatham Charter with his kora and drums, for a performance-only workshop. But no Diali workshop is ever only performance. By the end of his time at Chatham Charter, almost every kid in the room was on the stage dancing, drumming, and overflowing with joy. When it was time to say goodbye, they rushed to Diali to offer their thanks and even hugs!
How Do We Make It Happen?
The Chatham Arts Council could not bring professional artists like Diali Cissokho into Chatham County schools without the dollars to make it possible. The Chatham Grove Elementary residency was powered by Sara Donaldson State Farm Insurance. The Chatham Charter residency was powered by an anonymous community member. Our partners at Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, and the North Carolina Arts Council also make this important work happen.
Individual gifts are absolutely critical, too. We’re working to expand the Chatham Artists-in-Schools Initiative with a goal of being in every single school in Chatham County, every single year, by 2025. Click here to be part of this artistic endeavor–and all our Arts for Resilient Kids efforts.
If you need more inspiration, here’s Siler City Elementary Principal Tania Poston speaking with WRAL about the importance of our Artists-in-Schools Initiative. Enjoy!