Sidiki Conde was 14 years old when he lost his legs to polio. In his home country of Guinea in West Africa, a physical disability like that is a sentence for a life of loneliness and isolation. Now 59, Conde now lives in a fifth-floor walkup in the East Village.
“Happiness is about not being defeated, everything that comes, you can figure it out,” he told us. “Just think about how you can be happy, in any situation, even with what is happening now.”
photo: Deborah Ross
Conde’s path to happiness came to him through a dream, during which he saw himself singing and dancing. He took it as a sign, and through much hard work and persistence taught himself to dance on his hands. Doing so allowed him to participate in his culture’s coming-of-age ceremony, which reconnected him to his community.
“I was so happy that day, I forgot all of my pain, all of my disability,” he said.
Conde began traveling around Guinea performing before becoming something of an international sensation. He settled in New York City about two decades ago.
Conde is among 54 immigrant artists featured in the Center for Traditional Music and Dance’s Beat of the Boroughs initiative, just launched this week. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through March, artists from around the world will be leading performances, workshops, lectures and more on the center’s YouTube and Facebook pages.
“We want to help the general public understand the incredible stories that these artists have and the importance of their presence in New York and the United States,” said Andrew Colwell, project director and staff ethnomusicologist at the Center for Traditional Music and Dance.
That includes: inner Mongolian long songs by Suvda Khereid, Haitian traditional songs by George Vilson and Régine Romain and Afro-Colombian songwriter Ronald Polo.
Beyond financial implications, the pandemic also hinders immigrant artists’ ability to ensure their culture lives on.
“One of their main goals is to pass on their music or dance forms and traditions to the next generation, and obviously the pandemic has made that especially difficult,” Colwell said. “There is a range of impacts we can barely understand right now.”
Conde plans to share the story of his ancestral masks — his grandfather and great grandfather were both village chiefs — and perform on the drums this Friday, Nov. 20 at 5 p.m. Expect some words of wisdom on how to deal with hardship and thrive in the face of adversity — something we can all use a little of right now.
The Center for Traditional Music and Dance is accepting donations, so if you enjoy a performance consider making a contribution. It hopes to be able to extend Beat of the Boroughs for the duration of the pandemic. You can check out the lineup of performers here.
OUT & ABOUT
Honoring those we’ve lost: This past Saturday, Epicenter live streamed a popup memorial event hosted by NYCNext and the Floral Heart Project in Rockaway Beach. It was a beautiful ceremony that brought the community together to grieve those we’ve lost to Covid-19, but also to create a space for hope and joy. You can watch the live stream here.
Black Restaurant Week: Support local businesses while celebrating African-American, African
Winter Village: Like it or not, cold weather is coming, and when it does, you can get into the spirit by heading to the Winter Village at Bryant Park. The major draw is, of course, the free-admission skating rink. It’s open daily, and this year requires advance reservations. The open-air holiday market will feature many new and returning vendors. Four minority-owned small businesses will be showcasing their products rent-free, thanks to a partnership with Bank of America. Learn more.
Calling all Yankees fans: We know it must have been hard not being able to attend any games this season. How about a virtual tour of the stadium as a consolation? The tours, which are led by a professional guide, are free and take place every Tuesday and Thursday. Space is limited, RSVP here.
Our Fair City: The Museum of the City of New York is hosting a virtual conversation about the state of housing in NYC — or lack thereof — this Wednesday, Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. The online event, which is first in the museum’s series, “Our Fair City: Building a More Equitable New York,” will feature affordable housing architect Jonathan Rose, Executive Director of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development Barika X. Williams and New York Magazine’s architecture critic Justin Davidson. Learn more and reserve your tickets.
Pasta at home: Don’t feel comfortable dining out at the moment? (Or, you just haven’t been able to score one of the sought-after reservations?) The chef behind highly acclaimed Brooklyn restaurants Lilia and Misi, Missy Robbins, is now offering at home meal service and gourmet groceries through Misi Pasta. You can order the ingredients for Lilia’s famous mafaldini with pink peppercorn among other items like green garlic butter, olive oil martinis, whipped ricotta with fresh sourdough … go on, treat yourself. Delivery available for certain locations. Order here.
Have you subscribed to our spin-off newsletter, The Unmuted, yet? Written by two veteran education journalists, it focuses on everything schools. In this week’s edition, they speak with a parent on how they have been dealing with their child’s special education schedule and as always, give you the ever-changing scoop on what’s going on in schools. We know these are crazy times for parents and students alike. Let us know how we can help.
3 percent: Parents, teachers and administrators have been waiting with bated breath to see if the city-wide coronavirus positivity rate climbs above 3% over a seven day average, at which point Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed he will shut them down. The positivity rate is currently hovering around 2.77%, and schools are set to be open at least through Tuesday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on the other hand, said over the weekend that he believes New York City should take into consideration the positivity rate of specific schools when deciding to halt in-person learning.
What’s going on in schools? The New York City Department of Education is hosting an info session about remote and blended learning, grading policies, and health and safety protocols this Thursday, Nov. 19 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Register here.
GIVE & GET HELP
Small biz ambassadors: North Brooklyn mutual aid has created a pilot program that will connect “ambassadors” — people from the community with social media and marketing experience — to neighborhood businesses to help amplify them during the holiday season. Spread the word and sign up — either as a small business or an ambassador.
Help Astoria Food Pantry spread thanks: The neighborhood org is hosting a pie-a-thon now through Nov. 25.. Love baking? Donate a homemade pie (or two!) and it will give them out to community members in need for Thanksgiving. Not a baker? You can pledge a $ amount for every pie that is donated. Sign up here. The food pantry is also accepting Thanksgiving kits (one can cranberry, one can of corn, one box of stuffing, one packet of mashed potatoes and one packet of gravy), which can be dropped off Wednesday, Nov. 18 from 2 to 5 p.m. or Thursday Nov. 19 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at its location at 28-14 Steinway St.
Help save the arts: The pandemic put the discipline of dance on the back burner, causing the Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center to cancel classes until further notice. Highly acclaimed dancer Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, the founder of the dance studio who is devoted to serving the Bed-Stuy community, says that without a monetary boost, she may have to close the center’s doors within three months. Smallwood is currently taking donations that will allow her to stay open and continue to invest in the community by giving its children access to participating in performance art. So far, over $104,000 has been raised out of the $1 million goal. You can donate here.