Holidays in Santa Fe with tons of African Music!

Posted: January 11, 2013 in Culture, drum, For Students, Images, Instruments


Hey everyone. What do the words “Santa Fe” bring to mind for you? If you live anywhere north of Colorado Springs, probably a salad with chipotle ranch dressing or one of those tortilla wrap-things with chicken and lettuce. Well, I just got back to Washington after spending a little over 3 weeks visiting family and friends in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I’m here to tell you I never saw any of those things there. Besides being a small city-town of about 70,000 people, it’s where me and most of my bandmates spent the first 18 years of our lives. I never noticed it growing up, but being away and coming back made me realize a couple things about how unique Santa Fe and northern NM in general are:  First of all, the part of New Mexico around Santa Fe and Albuquerque has one of the best communities for African music and dance in the western United States, hands down. It’s amazing to me that despite the number of talented musicians and people from different countries there are in cities like Seattle and Portland, there isn’t as good of a community to support African music in those cities as there is in these smaller New Mexican towns. I was told by some older friends within the community that part of the reason it developed the way it did was that there wasn’t anything else interesting to distract people who liked African music and dance! Plus everyone knew everyone. While there aren’t necessarily a huge number of performers in Santa Fe, the talent-per-capita ratio is pretty high: West African drummers like Soriba Fofana and Fred Simpson, dancers like Elise Gent, Shona-style marimba players and instrument builders like Dan Pauli and Peter Swing, plus a younger generation of twenty-somethings like myself who still sometimes call Santa Fe home, make it a rich place to hear or play some music. Which is all the more surprising since the general nightlife scene is pretty slow and doesn’t usually go past 10:30 or 11 on weeknights.

Assorted Mbiras and Gourds

Another unique thing about New Mexico is that it’s one of the only states in the US where the descendants of white, English-speaking colonizers are not the majority, and around as many people speak Spanish as English (or maybe even more). Outside of the cities, there are still families in Northern New Mexico who have literally been living on the same property and farming the same land for three or four hundred years, and the food eaten and dialects spoken there are different from anything anywhere else in the world. (While we were in town this year for the holidays, my friend Daniel bought an entire dictionary of nothing but Spanish words spoken only in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. It was a seriously researched scholarly work by a professor of linguistics, containing words like guinchil, for “windshield”). Realizing this a lot more clearly than ever before made me wonder if the reason Zimbabwean people always seem to feel so comfortable in New Mexico might be more than just there fact that the climate is similar to their homeland. Despite hosting a booming tourist economy and dozens of wealthy people with summer homes on the northeast side of town, northern New Mexico has managed to keep its cultural roots.

Since this is a blog about African music, I’ll save the other musings for somewhere else, but the upshot was that I reconnected with a relatively thriving community for drum, dance, marimba and mbira, and got some new material for this site in the process. I especially focused on West African music, and was able to improve my djembe playing, take pictures of instruments, gather info about rhythms and technique, and more. Check out the image gallery for the new photos, and head over to the drums page for the first batch of new information. Probably in a day or two I’ll update the Map of Teachers to include the New Mexican musicians I’ve received bios from so far. I’m especially inspired right now by all the parallels I’ve been seeing between drumming and mbira music, and between Mande and Bantu musical customs. I’ll definitely be doing some more digging about that for the next round of updates!

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