African concert raises funds for schools

Local band Sindoolaa is holding a concert to benefit students in Senegal.

African music is not just drumming and dancing — at least not when it is performed by Sindoolaa.

This high-energy musical group will take the stage Saturday afternoon at Turner Hall Ballroom on a mission to give back to a small community in West Africa.

Oumar Sagna, founder of Sindoolaa, is currently a Milwaukee resident, but his roots lie in the West African country of Senegal. He came to the United States in September 1997 through a teaching exchange program at Amity Institute, a nonprofit organization that sponsors international educators to teach in U.S. schools.

After teaching in Maine for about a year, Sagna moved to Milwaukee and soon discovered the city’s African music scene. He began collaborating with local musicians and his band back in Senegal, and released his first album in 2005.

Soon after, the Sindoolaa African Music band was formed.

“During the event of the CD release, all the musicians from (Milwaukee) talked to me and said, ‘Why do we stop here?’” Sagna said. “This is a project we wanted to do, and it’s still alive now.”

Sindoolaa’s sound is a unique hybrid of traditional African drumming and strings mixed with modern western guitar — a combination fitting for a band comprised of musicians who come from different parts of the world.

“What I’m doing is bringing my traditional music up to the level where the western ear can relate to,” Sagna said. “Most of the time people hear African music as just being drums and dance.”

Jeff Green, who plays guitar in Sindoolaa, has studied music from all over the world. He said the mixture of modern guitar and African indigenous instruments is one of his favorite combinations.

“African drums and guitar were just made for each other,” Green said. “I am never at a loss of what to do when I am surrounded by African drummers and there are African rhythms in the air. Rhythmically, it’s a no-brainer.”

Not only is the group captivating, but the purpose behind Saturday’s performance is a noble one. In partnership with Milwaukee Montessori School, where Sagna has been teaching French since 2003, Sindoolaa is working toward raising enough funds to build and equip a library facility in Sagna’s hometown of Diatock, Senegal.

“It’s a village where people don’t have much,” Sagna said. “Most of the time, parents would rather get something for their kids to eat than spending on their education, not because they don’t understand how important it is, but because they can’t afford it.”

The Milwaukee Montessori School has donated clothing and school supplies for students of the Diatock school, raised money to purchase doors and windows for the school’s new classrooms and collected $5,000 to purchase materials for the 66 desks that have now been built there.

The Diatock library is the school’s most ambitious project yet, but Sagna is working hard to utilize his talents with Sindoolaa and raise the needed funds. He hopes the library will eventually enable students from the Diatock school to communicate with students from the Milwaukee Montessori School via video chat.

“Instead of having a kid from here going on the Internet to find information about something, how about having them be able to discuss it with someone from Africa and see what they think about it?” Sagna said.

Green said this benefit show is going to be fun and entertaining, but the fact that it can serve a greater purpose gives it more meaning.

“It adds an incredible purpose when we aren’t just playing for fun,” Green said. “We are playing to help these children in Senegal.”

Carl Nichols, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the newest addition to Sagna’s group, echoed Green’s sentiment.

“It’s nice to know that the music community is able to do something like this on a global scale,” Nichols said.

Want to learn more? Tune in to 88.9 FM Radio Milwaukee on Friday, Feb. 12, to hear an interview with Sagna between 1 and 2 p.m.

The show itself is at Turner Hall Ballroom on Saturday, Feb. 13. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. and the performance begins at 3 p.m.