End of the Line: The Last ever Tribe of DorisAfter 20 years of pioneering drumming, dance and song, the intercultural summer school prepares to go out with a crescendo. By Will Gethin
Having started out as a drum convention in Bristol 20 years ago, today Tribe of Doris is hailed as the world’s most vibrant intercultural exchange of drumming, dance, song and ceremony.
‘Doris’ as the festival is fondly known to regulars, was dreamt into being by fellow musical adventurers and intrepid culture-surfers, Deasy Bamford and Siobhan Kierans, who shared a passion for drumming and dance, and who had both individually lived in Egypt, Morocco and West Africa, as well as travelling to many other countries. ‘Together we pioneered the idea of a festival where, instead of passively consuming “other” cultures,’ remembers Siobhan, ‘people could come together to learn about each other’s cultures by participating in the arts of drumming, dance, song and ceremony.’
And so Doris was born, initially focused on bringing drumming to the masses and putting the then mostly African teachers centre stage. That first year in Bristol in 1991, 75 people came and there were workshops in djembe, balafon, song and dance with teachers Musa Suma from Guinea, Ade Sose Wallace from Nigeria and Ayodele Scott from Sierra Leone, amongst others. The following year the venue changed to rural Somerset and as the only event of its kind, Doris began to grow and develop a reputation for excellence which it would continue to enjoy for the best part of two decades.
New drum and dance artists arriving in the UK from various pockets of the globe would hear about Doris and ask if they could be included in the next festival programme. Henri Gaubi and Marcel Kouissouie came from the Ivory Coast, there was Dr Olu Taiwo from Nigeria, South African veteran Pinisie Saul, Nii Tagoe, Angie Anderson and many others. Returning year on year with a core group of respected teachers and some new additions to freshen the flavours, what became known as the ‘Doris intercultural summer school’ inspired other events around the country, and delivered a famously brilliant and intense experience.
As Siobhan aptly points out: ‘Where else could you drum and dance all night with fiercely talented teachers, following the route the music had taken from West Africa across the Sahara to Morocco and across the Atlantic to Brazil, Colombia, Argentina, Cuba, Martinique and Jamaica?’ Run by women, the intercultural summer school has always tried to support women teachers, often giving young artists their first chance to develop their teaching skills. Both this year and last, the youth area has proffered extremely talented and award-winning young teacher-artists, many of whom have been coming to Doris since they were small children.
Over the years, Doris has worked with teachers from north, south, east and west Africa including Seckou Keita and other members of his talented family like Surahata Susso, and Mamadou and Binta Cissokho. Other African highlights have included mbira maestro Chartwell Dutiro, Sabar whiz Moudou Diouf, Amazigh dancer Amel Tafsout, Hassan Erraji from Morocco and Moroccan trance musicians Jil Gnawa. South America and the Caribbean have brought us Jean Abreu, Laercio dos Anjos Borges, Claudio Kron, Mariana Pinho and Colombian superstar Toto la Momposina. ‘With around 40 workshops a day and a history of 20 years, the list of talented teachers is almost endless!’ says Siobhan.
This year’s spectacular ‘finale’ Doris line up includes Seckou Keita once again (African drumming), dance and drum legend Nii Tagoe from Baka Beyond, Pinise Saul with South African gospel, Wendell Bara and Mariana Pinho with Brasilian maracatu drum and dance, and Sufi whirling pioneer Sheikh Ahmad Dede.
When Doris first started out in the early 1990s, the conservative government had made significant cutbacks in the arts, and as a result African music in schools and African music and dance workshops at festivals were more or less unheard of, except at WOMAD. And yet now there are probably hundreds of African drum and dance workshops in schools up and down the country and they are on tap at numerous festivals.
And yet the Tribe of Doris summer school is now closing because it’s struggling to sell enough tickets...paradoxically this would seem a fair indication that Doris has accomplished what it set out to achieve - with intercultural drumming and dance now widely available across Great Britain, the summer school can graciously retire, content in the knowledge that its job is done.
Next month’s final Tribe of Doris promises to be the best yet - the event will span the globe with workshops from India, Africa, Brazil, Mexico, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and more. Over the years Doris has created an amazing community across the UK and around the world so this community will be celebrated in as many ways as possible.
‘We will be making time to welcome in new members and lay pathways to a new future for us all, carrying with us the special spirit of Doris,’ says co-founder Deasy Bamford. ‘Each year a couple of weeks before Doris we start dreaming up the ceremonies and who knows what the muses will whisper in our ears when we make the time to listen? There will as always be magic, co-created by everyone present!’ Tribe of Doris takes place from 9 -14th August in the Blackdown Hills, Devon. For further information contact Tribe of Doris: www.tribeofdoris.co.uk; 0845 458 0190; email@example.com