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Communications and Marketing

West African Drumming Ensemble

The Lake County Journal featured Lake Forest College’s West African Drumming Ensemble in an article promoting the Benkadi benefit, an evening of drumming and dance performances that will be held on Saturday, Nov. 12. Admission is free, but all donations go to help the Guinean people.

Percussionist teaches West African drumming, works to improve lives of impoverished Guineans

By Angela Sykora | Lake County Journal

For more than 20 years, Grayslake resident Helen Bond has been studying the art of West African drumming and exposing students to a unique cultural experience through her teaching.

“Anyone can learn this. I teach all ages,” she said.

Bond, an adjunct faculty member of Lake Forest College, performs with a professional ensemble called Diamana Diya, which translates to “make good music for the land,” and hosts regular workshops at the Jack Benny Center for the Arts in Waukegan and the Village of Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center.

In her youth, Bond loved to dance. The beat of the music led to her playing the drums.

“For me, it was a natural progression. I took some classes and eventually traveled to Guinea, West Africa, because there was a method of playing there that was very unique and I wanted to learn that,” she said.

She embarked on her first trip to Guinea in December 2001, where she studied the musical traditions and culture of the Malinke people, whose ancestors created the djembe and dunun drums, according to her website,www.medusadrums.com.

Her mentor was djembe drum master Famoudou Konate. Bond would go on to tour with him and later manage his North American tours in addition to managing his renowned nephew, Nansady Keita.

She eventually left her career as an IT project manager to perform and teach full-time. 

“I do it because it’s fun and very joyful. I really love the community aspect of it,” Bond said.

“The music I teach, I can’t play it by myself. I need other people to play with. That’s really fun and interesting when you bring other people into the mix and play collectively. I’m always grateful for everyone who comes to study and play with me because I can’t produce that sound by myself.”

Bond travels to Guinea regularly to connect with local musicians and instructors and continue improving upon her skills. In January, she received recognition and certification for her drumming and teaching from The Fine Arts Institute of Guinea.

She is founder and executive director of the Motherland Rhythm Community, a nonprofit organization focused on creating community and connecting cultures through hand drumming, and co-founder of the Benkadi Project, a grassroots effort that provides aid to people in small villages in Guinea.

Through donations, the group has built a small school house and fabricated and distributed hundreds of bios and water filters to give families access to clean water.

Benkadi benefit

For several years, Motherland Rhythm Community has hosted a Benkadi benefit at the Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center, with all donations going to help the Guinean people. Last year’s event raised $12,000.

This year’s event will be held on Saturday, Nov. 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m. 

The three-hour evening includes drumming and dance performances and West African food. There is no admission, though donations are appreciated.

“People have come from as far as Chicago. It brings everyone together to work toward a great cause,” Bond said.

In addition to her adult class at the Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center, Bond is trying to “drum” up interest for a weekly children’s class. Learn more at www.villageofroundlakebeach.com/230/Cultural-Civic-Center.

More offerings at the Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center

The Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center is a 31,000-square-foot, multi-use facility that the village opened in 2007. The space includes a banquet room, meeting and event rooms and an outdoor stage overlooking Hook Lake.

“It’s great to have a multifaceted facility like this. The community has really responded well to it,” said Nancy Steen, the village’s human resources manager and overseer of the center’s programming schedule.

“So many people utilize the facility and we’re very proud of that. There’s nothing else like it,” she added.

The center hosts cultural and entertainment events, seminars and instructional classes throughout the year. Programs are open to everyone regardless of residency.

Upcoming events include step-by-step painting class on Nov. 3, a performance of The Emperor’s New Clothes on Nov. 5, a basket weaving workshop on Nov. 8 and an affordable housing seminar on Nov. 9.