By Suzan Bradford Kounta, artistic director of Thiossane Institute
Kevin Seals is an enduring student of traditional music, specifically West African rhythms. At the young age of 11, full of mischief and curiosity, he was recommended to attend the West African dance program held at his neighborhood recreation center. There, he was bitten by the rich cultural and intricate sounds of the djembe orchestra. Now, 27 years later he serves as the music director of Thiossane West African Dance Institute. He’ll perform in the Thiossane Institute’s A Tribute to Traditions on Sunday, May 16 at the Lincoln Theatre.
Suzan: How does an 11 year old boy fall in love with African drumming?
Kevin: The drums just seem to be calling to my spirit. The sounds were loud and interesting. Once I got my hands on one, I couldn’t release them. It felt like something I was supposed to be doing and I adjusted my busy little schedule to accommodate room for drum class.
Suzan: What was the one or many things that kept you connected to the program?
Kevin: My love for the African culture and the friends who became family. The memories and experiences created and shared filled my soul and gave my artistic spirit life. In this program, I came alone, but now, I have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and elders all of which have become my family. They are my part of my roots now.
Suzan: In what areas of your life has this artform benefited you?
Kevin: The most important way is discipline. In all aspects of my life. from managing my behavior in my youth, to curating my artistic passion as an adult, it has been the guiding force. Whether on stage performing or at home being Dad, my discipline guides me and allows me to continue to strive to be the man that I am proud of.
Suzan: Who were some of your instructors and what were your lessons?
Kevin: Abdou Kounta was most influential. He taught me discipline. Medounce Yacine Gueye has taught me the importance of keeping the tradition of the culture. Cheickh M’Baye taught me to always give my best effort, don’t be afraid and just “Try it.”
Suzan: Currently, what are some projects you are working on?
Kevin: I am currently an accompanist for multiple classes at The Ohio State University. I appreciate the Dance Department’s respect, for my input is often requested to assist the dancers in recognizing and understanding musicality in a different way. The traditional authenticity of music is key. I have been the music instructor for youth and adult classes at Thiossane Institute’s community classes for many years and also work freelance throughout the city to provide educational and entertaining experiences.
Suzan: Where do you see yourself as a traditional musician?
Kevin: Because music is the language of my soul, I plan to continue my tenure with Thiossane because giving back to the youth, which were my beginnings, is very important to me. I also hope to continue to provide traditional music for classes and universities within the state. Lastly, I have a really exciting project in the works that I can’t speak on now, but I am thrilled at the opportunity and cannot wait to present the final piece. I will continue to be an ambassador for traditional West African music and you can always find me on stage with Thiossane Institute.
See Kevin performing in the Thiossane Institute’s A Tribute to Traditions on Sunday, May 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre (769 E. Long St.). In-person tickets are available through lincolntheatrecolumbus.com and virtual tickets are available through thiossaneinst.org.