African Music JanPlan puts on impressive show

The African Music JanPlan class put on its final performance in the Bixler Given Auditorium on the eve of Sunday, Feb. 16. The concert, which was free and open to the public, drew a crowd of dozens of students, faculty and staff, parents, and Watervillians, all of whom came to enjoy a night of traditional African drumming, song, and dance.

The class met four times a week during JanPlan, giving students ample opportunity to learn about West African music and culture throughout their time in the course. Under the guidance of Messan Jordan Benissan, the course’s instructor, the students put together an hour-long performance in which every student had the opportunity to sing, dance, and play the drums.

“I took the class because I had never taken a music class at Colby before and it seemed like a fun opportunity to try something new and learn about different kinds of music,” MJ Kievman `20 told the Echo.

Benissan is a native of Togo, West Africa and is a master drummer of the Ewe people of West Africa. He has released several CDs, including Let Me Play My Music and Drumming Through the Spirit of My Ancestors, the latter of which was adopted as a teaching resource by the Hennepin County Library in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Benissan has performed at notable events including the NAACP’s national conference and the Mayo Clinic’s Multicultural Program. He is also the owner of Mé Lon Togo Bistro, a highly-regarded Waterville restaurant that serves West African cuisine.

“Jordan is a really caring professor who stressed the importance of learning the academic and cultural significance of the songs he taught us, and I would say that one of the most important things I learned during Jan plan is the profound influence African music has had on the popular music we listen to in America today,” Kievman said.

Benissan and his 36 students took the stage in traditional West African garb at 7 p.m. and were met with a round of applause from the audience. Beginning with a song performed in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, half of the students played the drums, while the remainder of the class performed a song and dance. The students switched roles between each song, giving everyone the chance to showcase all of the skills they acquired over the course of JanPlan.

“I found myself overcome by the rhythm, my hips aching to move along with the beat,” audience member Charlie Allen `21 told the Echo when asked about his experience watching the performance.

Allen was far from the only spectator to enjoy the concert. The audience was engaged throughout, watching and listening intently and expressing their approval through cheers and applause at the conclusion of each song.

Before performing the last song and concluding their JanPlan experience, all of the performers lined up and gave each other hugs. Inspired by this display of positivity, some members of the audience could be seen embracing as well. It was a fitting end to a great night in which Benissan and his students proudly presented the product of their work over the past month.