The ROC Initiative

The Rhythm of Change is an initiative that has emerged from 22 years of Mande West African Dance as a historical and embodied study at Brown University. Since its inception in 1989, Brown’s program has pioneered the study of Mande performance; it is now a transnational program with a research center in Mali and has served over 2000 students from around the globe. The Rhythm of Change Initiative builds directly upon projects pioneered through the Mande program, including The Bloodline Project, which developed performance pieces on malaria prevention, and the hugely popular Africanist weekends, which have brought African performance artists to the Brown community for over 10 years.

The Rhythm of Change is based in the idea that performance can instigate action. The ROC Festival 2013 will be unique, as it marks the one-year anniversary of the coup d’√©tat in Mali. The political insurrection has invited increasingly tight-fisted rule by militants in the country’s north, where music has been banned. For a country whose arts are world-renowned, such a ruling challenges a core aspect of Malian identity, emblematic of the sectarian violence that has separated families straddling the boundaries of militia control. Prominent artists such as Amkoullel have received death threats for infusing political activism into their song lyrics. Women are encountering more violence than ever before, as rape and murder become commonplace in the north.

This year's performances will address the recent occupation of Mali; the ensuing socio-political upheavals; how current events have affected health and educational inequalities; and how performance can create a vibrant space for reflection, contemplation, and reconciliation. The ROC Festival 2013 will honor the men and women who are utilizing performance and creative processes to resist complacency, violence, and oppression.

History of ROC

Each year, students and educators travel to the Yeredon Center for the Malian Arts, our cultural research facility in Bamako, Mali, to engage in cultural preservation initiatives, educational advancement, and community service. These locally-identified projects utilize performance and the arts to build relationships and collaborations between communities, cultures, and nations. Over the past 20 years, Brown students have participated in building schools, created public service programs broadcast on Malian radio stations, painted community murals, and created theatrical performances on malaria prevention, healthcare, and the environment. These projects have helped sustain local artists, their families, and surrounding communities. To see examples of selected student projects, click here.

Phase I of the Rhythm of Change (ROC) Festival commenced in 2010, when students in the Mande Dance & Culture class were partnered with international social justice organizations to build partnerships between Malian performers and activists. The 2010 ROC Festival invited over three-dozen international artists and social organizers to engage in embodied learning and present a call to action to the Brown and Rhode Island communities. The initiative included integral support for the creation of a Burundian refugee drum ensemble in Providence.

Phase II of the ROC Festival was launched in the summer of 2011, after a year of continuous fundraising by Brown students. Funded by the Brown Undergraduate Teaching and Research Awards (UTRA Program), students traveled to the Yeredon center in Mali to organize “The Communal Bowl,” a conference that brought together leading Malian artists and nutrition experts in order to investigate the artist’s role in building education and awareness surrounding Mali’s malnutrition crisis. Students witnessed the provocation of a vibrant discussion and connection of resources between artists and nutrition professionals from traditionally distant sectors.

The ROC Festival 2012 further investigated performance’s role in social change through the lens of nutrition, health, and empowerment.

Join us in our continued exploration of how the arts contribute an active and integral role in human survival and development.

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