Africa's aural, oral roots celebrated in musical tale


The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Maryland Public Television have joined forces this week for a Black History Month concert that emphasizes both the aural and oral roots of traditional African music and story-telling -- and their modern relevance, too.

An African-based story lies at the heart of "Dreams, Mirrors and Reflections," which airs at 8 tonight on MPT -- simulcast on WBJC-FM (91.5) -- and in concert for families Saturday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The story of "The Lion and the Ashiko Drum" is told by legendary Baltimore griot Mary Carter Smith. The BSO, with associate conductor David Lockington and the All-City High School Chorus, accompany the tale of a man and wife who confront a lion.

The story originated from a modern circumstance, says author Jamal Koram, a member of Baltimore's Griot Circle of storytellers and president of the National Association of Black Storytellers.

In "The Lion and Ashiko Drum," Mr. Koram superimposed upon a traditional story form -- encounters with lions and other wildlife -- an instructional story aimed at helping a friend confront a marital difficulty.

"I really don't recall where I got the story. You hear so many and you take a little from what you hear. I think its origin is East African," he says.

But he does remember the inspiration for his embellishments, in which an estranged husband and wife, Loaat and Tsara, learn from the lion how to better appreciate each other.

He was practicing drumming when he learned of a friend who was having relationship problems. He decided to create the story to offer advice and comfort.

The author first told the story in performance in 1987, and also included it in his book, "When Lions Could Fly."

"The lion always represents in the stories courage, wisdom and strength," says Mr. Koram.

In his story, Simba the lion could be Dr. Joyce Brothers.

"You want the Tsara of yesterday, but yesterday is gone. Look at your wife as she is today. Give her what she wants and needs. Concentrate on her. Have patience, and you will see that the crops will grow, the laughter will flow, the harvest will come, and there will be little dancers for your drum rhythms," he advises.

"Dreams, Mirrors and Reflections," which has been performed at the Meyerhoff this week for some 10,000 schoolchildren, includes works by African and African-American composers: Duke Ellington's "King of the Magi" and "Martin Luther King, from "Les Trois Rois Noirs (Three Black Kings); Obo Addy's "Wawshishijay"; the spirituals "Deep River," "Wondrous Love" and "Amazing Grace" and William Hill's "Primeval Instruments from Seven Abstract Miniatures."


What: "Dreams, Mirrors and Reflections"

When: 8 tonight; repeats 10 a.m. tomorrow and 9 a.m. Sunday

Where: MPT, Channels 22 and 67

When: Concert, 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall

Tickets: $8

Call: (410) 783-8000

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