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A Bird Dance near Saturday City

Sidi Ballo and the Art of West African Masquerade

Patrick R. McNaughton

Publication Year: 2008

In 1978, Patrick McNaughton witnessed a bird dance masquerade in the small town of Dogoduman. He was so affected by this performance that its dazzling artistic power has never left him. As he revisits that very special evening in A Bird Dance near Saturday City, McNaughton carefully considers the components of the performance, its pace, the performers, and what the entire experience means for understandings of Bamana and West African aesthetics and culture. The performance of virtuoso dancer Sidi Ballo becomes McNaughton's vehicle for understanding the power of individuals in African art and the power of aesthetics as a cultural phenomenon. Topics such as what makes art effective, what makes it "good," how production is wrapped in individual virtuosity, and what individual artistry suggests about society reveal how individuals work together to create the indelible experience of outstanding performance. This exuberant and captivating book will influence views of society, culture, art, history, and their makers in West Africa for years to come.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Expressive Cultures


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvii

This book bears huge debts to the fine research and generous discussion of many colleagues in Mande studies. Pascal James Imperato was an early writer on Mande performance. He spent five years from 1966 to 1971 as a medical doctor heading a smallpox eradicating program in the Republic of Mali. He became passionate about Malian art and writes about it in elegant detail. His ...

Note to Readers

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pp. xix

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Introduction: An Explosion of Art at Dogoduman

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pp. 1-10

This book was inspired by a bird dance (kònò don), a masquerade held one June night in 1978. It remains the most spectacular performance I have ever seen—in fact, the most compelling art experience I have ever had. It resides in my mind as an explosion of art. It took place in Dogoduman, “Sweet Little City,” a small farming town ...


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pp. 11

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1. The Performance

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pp. 13-30

Sidi Ballo was without a doubt the featured artist and the very reason there was a bird dance at Dogoduman in June of 1978. Nevertheless, he was one among many performers, all of whom contributed to the shape of the event and the affect it created in the audience ...

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2. How to View a Bird Dance

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pp. 31-64

The Dogoduman bird dance can be viewed as simplicity itself. It was composed of essentially clear-cut segments. Its participants played readily discernable, complementary roles. And it could be described, even by local audience members, as straightforward entertainment. Many Dogoduman citizens certainly viewed it that way—as nicely orchestrated, well-executed fun. ...


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pp. 65

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3. Sidi Ballo at Dogoduman

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pp. 67-79

Sidi Ballo was more independent at Dogoduman than any other performer. He was not from the local youth association or even from the town. He was the star performer and held in high enough regard that deference was paid him and a certain insulation surrounded him. He was essentially unconstrained by the deck-of-cards master of ceremonies. He was free to perform as he saw fit. ...

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4. A Closer Look at Sidi Ballo

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pp. 80-105

Not everyone could become as good a drummer as Sori Jabaatè, as good a singer as Mayimuna Nyaarè, or as good a masquerader as Sidi Ballo. Desire, drive, and dedication; the capacity to acquire the talent; the years of work to do just that—all these and more are required. Many people would not want to become such artists. Others might want to but would not have the ability or ...

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5. Individuals Intertwined

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pp. 106-124

Now we arrive at the place in scholarship that gave me so much trouble. I did not realize it during the years aft er Dogoduman, but there was a reason I was not rushing toward writing this book. I thought I would. But I never really started because I did not seem to know what it ought to be about. Sidi Ballo was ablaze in my mind. I knew he was a most impressive ...


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pp. 125

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6. Sidi Ballo’s Aesthetic Milieu

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pp. 127-144

I want to characterize artistic form as material articulated into vehicles of the imagination, instruments that invoke experience and facilitate dialogue. I want to describe physical form as more than physical, which by dint of our very nature involves activity well beyond what we ordinarily conceive of as seeing. By extension, then, I want to consider aesthetics as ideas and values ...

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7. Form Reconsidered in Mande Light

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pp. 145-157

When I watched the Dogoduman bird dance, the artistic force of it played me like a piano. Afterward, whenever I tried to imagine why, I always concluded that it only just began with spectacularly articulated form, at least as I was conceptualizing form. To be sure, there was ample beauty and astonishment, elegance and poetry, in the ways performers looked, drummers played, and ...

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8. A Mande Aesthetic Profile

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pp. 158-190

In no way did Sidi Ballo just dance at Dogoduman. He made a continuing string of on-the-spot decisions based on what had occurred up to any given moment and how the audience had responded. He took into account the character of his performance colleagues that evening, so he knew what he could do to complement and capitalize upon their abilities. Years before he ever arrived ...

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9. An Aesthetic of Affect

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pp. 191-212

When art announces itself with the attributes that distinguish it from everyday life, a frame of special time and place is perceived that offers audiences opportunities. One is the opportunity to revel in aesthetic engagement, which people can do in everyday situations too, but perhaps not as freely. This is aesthetic distance, a freedom to ignore quotidian concerns and plumb artistic ...


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pp. 213

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10. Expanding the Beholder’s Share

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pp. 215-231

At Dogoduman, most of the imagery from masquerades and lyrics was so familiar that the audience shared interpretations of what they heard and saw, at least in large measure. The very format of that evening near Saturday City was infused with common community experience.1 Multimedia public performances staged by youth were widely encountered events, so people understood ...

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11. An Atmosphere for Sidi Ballo’s Bird Dance

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pp. 232-252

Many catalysts for meaning and value punctuated the dance space at Dogoduman. Th ere were the topics of the songs, the ways they were delivered, and the particular words used with their rich allusions to other stories, proverbs, mores, and axioms. There were the stage presence and skills of all the performers; the thoughts about responsibility, hard work, and success they might inspire;...

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Conclusion: Bird Masquerading Is Alive and Well

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pp. 253-262

Those are the words Yaya Traore, Sidi Ballo’s former mentor, used to indicate that changes never stop as new dancers take up bird masquerading. In June of 1998 I returned to Mali aft er twenty years. My friend and colleague Kassim Kone had graciously invited me to come with him and stay at his brother Madu’s house in Bamako’s far northern suburbs. We planned to visit some sites ...


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pp. 263-272


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pp. 273-287


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pp. 289-300

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000415
E-ISBN-10: 0253000416
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253351487

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 1 b&w photos, 24 color photos, 1 maps
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: African Expressive Cultures