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Sidiki Conde

March 25, 1961

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Though he lost the use of his legs to polio while growing up in Guinea, West Africa, Sidiki Conde has become an acclaimed musician and dancer who tours internationally with his Tokounou ensemble. Bethesda, Maryland, 2007, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde, Bethesda, Maryland, 2007, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde after-school workshop, Manhattan School for Children,  New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde after-school workshop, Manhattan School for Children,  New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde after-school workshop, Manhattan School for Children,  New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde after-school workshop, Manhattan School for Children,  New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde after-school workshop, Manhattan School for Children,  New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde after-school workshop, Manhattan School for Children,  New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde waiting for a bus on his way home from his after-school workshop, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde boarding a bus on his way home from his after-school workshop, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde locking his wheelchair into place, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde leaving the bus on his way home from his after-school workshop, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde on his way home from his after-school workshop, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde on his way home from his after-school workshop, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde greeting friends on First Avenue near his apartment, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde entering his apartment building, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde, after parking his wheelchair in the foyer, walks on his hands toward the stairs leading to his apartment. New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde climbs the stairs to his fifth-floor apartment on his hands, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde climbs the stairs to his fifth-floor apartment on his hands, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde climbs the stairs to his fifth-floor apartment on his hands, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde inside his apartment, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde inside his apartment, New York City, 2011, photograph by Alan Govenar
Sidiki Conde, New York City, 1999, photograph by Deborah Ross
Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett

Sidike Conde, from the city of Kankan in Guinea, West Africa, received the call to sing and dance at 14, when polio left him almost completely paralyzed. “I fell and never got up again,” he recalls. “I was in the hospital for three months. I was in a coma. And when I woke up, I remembered a dream that I had when I was asleep for such a long time. A voice told me to sing. But I couldn’t. I said, ‘I don’t have hands. I don’t have legs,’ and the voice repeated its command. I asked, ‘What kind of song should I sing?’ and the voice answered, ‘Sing: Mother, don’t cry, I’m not handicapped anymore.’”

Conde was determined to overcome his handicap, but the obstacles were almost insurmountable. People in his village in Guinea believed that individuals with disabilities brought shame and bad luck upon their families and that they should be banished from their homes, cut off from the ritual and daily lives of their community. After his paralysis, Conde was sent to live with his grandfather in a village deep in the forest, where he learned to manage his disability, building his upper-body strength so that he could walk on his hands. When it came time for the ceremony in which young men dance time-honored steps into manhood, he knew that if he did not participate, he would remain forever cut off from his community. He struggled to reconstruct the traditional steps by dancing on his hands instead of his feet, and his performance was met with applause.

Conde’s father, a military man, did not approve of his son’s art and forced him to attend a Muslim school. After three years, Conde ran away. In search of greater opportunities, Conde and his friends moved to the capital city, Conakry, where they organized Message de Espair (The Message of Hope), an orchestra of artists with disabilities recruited from the city’s streets. The troupe toured West Africa, performing and striving to change the perception of disabilities. Conde also developed programs to help those with disabilities gain job skills when he served as manager of operations for AJAFREIS, the National Association of the Republic of Guinea for the Handicapped.

In 1987, he became a member of Les Merveilles de Guinea, founded the year before by Komoko Sano, who urged him to learn the West African music and dance that the group performed. Conde became a soloist in the troupe and served as rehearsal master, composing and directing the company’s repertoire. He also worked as a musician and arranger with Youssou N’Dour, Salifa Keita, Baba Maal and other popular musicians. In 1998, Conde’s music brought him to the United States, and he founded the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble the next year. In the United States, he has continued to perform and teach, instructing people of all abilities in schools, hospitals and universities, and has served as artist in residence at a Bronx public school for children with multiple disabilities. In 2000, he hand-cycled across the United States for twenty-two days as part of World TEAM (The Exceptional Athlete Matters).

Today Conde lives in New York City with his wife, Deborah Ross, a wildlife watercolorist. He tours with his company, Tokounou, to schools and colleges around the United States and teaches workshops at schools in New York City, including the Djoniba School and the Manhattan School for Children. In working with students, Conde emphasizes that dance transcends any disability. Tapping his chest, he says that the dance comes from inside. Music and dance, he says, saved him from a precarious existence. “It made me feel good,” he told The New York Times. “I want people to use me. I want to do something. I’m fine for working.”

Bibliography
Dunning, Jennifer. “Who Says You Need Legs If You Want to Dance?” The New York Times (January 22, 2000).
Eno, Fred A. “Out of Africa: This Drummer and Dancer Takes the Prize, Hands Down.” WE Magazine (May-June 2000) pp. 106-110.
Lee, Felicia R. “COPING: Legs Don’t Work but His Courage Is Just Fine.” The New York Times. June 11, 2000.
“Sidike Conde.” HAI. (Winter 2002). 27 September 2005.
“SIDIKI CONDE: The Heart and Soul of Tokounou.” Tokounou Dance Company. http://tokounou.home.mindspring.com

Discography
Conde, Sidiki. From Guinea With Love. Innova 692.

Filmography
You Don't Need Feet to Dance. Directed by Alan Govenar. Produced by Documentary Arts and distributed by First Run Features.

Watch

Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Sidiki Conde performing with his Tokounou ensemble, 2007 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Sikidi Conde promotional video produced by New York Noise Productions, courtesy Sidiki Conde


Sidiki Conde and his Tokounou ensemble perform at the Colony Theatre, Florida Dance Association, June 29, 2007, courtesy Sidiki Conde

Selections from the film You Don't Need Feet to Dance, directed by Alan Govenar, produced by Documentary Arts and distributed by First Run Features


Listen

Sidiki Conde, 'Dalina,' Innova 692

Sidiki Conde, 'Kemoko Sano,' Innova 692

Sidiki Conde, 'Kourri,' Innova 692

Sidiki Conde answers the question 'How did you get started as a musician?' Interview by Alan Govenar, September 18, 2007

Sidiki Conde answers the question 'How did you get started drumming?' Interview by Alan Govenar, September 18, 2007

Sidiki Conde answers the question 'Could you play some of your music and talk about it?' Interview by Alan Govenar, September 18, 2007

Sidiki Conde answers the questions 'What keeps you going? What's your inspiration in life?' Interview by Alan Govenar, September 18, 2007