This May, three Chatham County schools experienced an interactive performance of West African kora (a West African jumbo spike-lute with 22 strings made from fishing line), singing, and drumming with Diali Cissokho, as part of the Chatham Arts Council’s Artists-in-Schools Initiative. Bennett K-8 School, Virginia Cross, and Perry Harrison Elementary students and teachers were called to the stage to try their hands at drumming and West African dancing, where their leader, Diali (pronounced “Jelly”) emphasized the balance of teamwork and the individual responsibility required to make music in a group.
This was the first Artists-in-Schools residency at Bennett K-8 School, the county’s smallest traditional public school. Pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students watched in amazement as Diali sang, played beautiful music, and relayed stories of a childhood in Senegal. By the end of their time together, students and teachers alike were in a large circle, dancing, singing, and asking really smart questions about the music and Diali’s life. “This was an incredible way for us to offer global and cultural exposure to our students,” explained Bennett Principal, Carla Neal. “Diali and the Chatham Arts Council are welcome back anytime!”
At Virginia Cross, the entire school was treated to a performance, while fifth graders also participated in classroom workshops that weaved the foundational math of pattern-making into West African drumming and storytelling. They focused on rhythm and beat through the drum, as well as, how to become a strong team to make music together. “Our students were so engaged in learning how to drum and very eager to show off their hard work at the end of the week,” said Sarah Chicchi, Principal at Virginia Cross. “The residency brought extra excitement to school that week.”
At Perry Harrison Elementary, the school was divided into two groups for an engaging performance by Diali – kindergarten through second grade and third grade through fifth grade. Diali, who speaks 12 languages, sang several songs in Wolof. And although the students may not have understood the words, they sat rapt with attention, patting their legs to the beat with an intent focus on every sound. Each song was uplifting and included a special message for students about how to be a good citizen and live peaceful lives. It was so easy to see how Diali puts his heart and soul into every single note, every beat, every word. “I love it so much!” he exclaimed. “I love being with kids.”
The Chatham Arts Council is able to bring professional artists into Chatham County schools because of our partners: Chatham County Schools, Chatham County, and the North Carolina Arts Council. It’s a collaboration that is incredibly worthwhile, exposing students to artistic forms that they may not otherwise encounter. For many, the arts are an incredible outlet where children can flourish and feel successful.
A HUGE thank you to our sponsors for powering this initiative in these two schools. The Diali Cissokho residency at Virginia Cross was powered by an Anonymous Western Chatham Sponsor. The residency at Bennett K-8 School was powered by Opus Financial Advisors & Friends. Special thanks to The Jester Group at Baird and gh designs for supporting the performances at Perry Harrison Elementary.
We’re hoping to expand the AIS initiative to Chatham Charter School, Willow Oak Montessori, and Woods Charter School in 2020 so that we are reaching every public elementary school in Chatham County. Can you help us? We hope so! If you’re intrigued, click here.