Helen Bond is a dynamic percussionist, teacher and storyteller who engages diverse audiences and students of all ages through the joy, energy and healing power of traditional West African hand drumming and songs. Helen is the recipient of the 2015 Jack Benny Arts and Humanities Award.
Music has been an inspiration and source of strength and resiliency for Helen since her childhood. For the last fifteen years, Helen has traveled regularly to Guinea, West Africa to study the intricate musical traditions and culture of the Malinke people, whose ancestors created the djembe and dunun drums centuries ago. She lives among the local people in the capital city of Conakry and in Sangbaralla Village in the Hamana Region of Guinea, the birthplace of Famoudou Konate, (Grand Master of the djembe drum and its orchestra) and Nansady Keita (his renowned nephew). Through intensive and long-term study with Famoudou and other accomplished djembe folas, dancers and griots (oral historians), Helen has developed and deepened her skill and repertoire in the Malinke rhythms and songs and her understanding of their role in village life.
In 2006, Helen began bringing Guinean musicians and teachers to the United States and Canada for workshops and master classes as part of the Hand to Hand: Wassa Kunba! Drumming Experience. After four highly successful multi-city tours with Famoudou, Helen has begun offering North American students opportunities to study with a new generation of djembe folas from the Hamana Region, including Namory Keita in 2010 and Nansady Keita 2010 thru 2013 as part of Wassa Kunba! Fodé Camara has also assisted by joining in on these tours and has taught classes at retreats, local schools, colleges and universities in addition to senior and community centers. Through her company, Medusa’s Musical Mysteries, Helen offers classes in Guinean percussion music, and storytelling performances, drum facilitation, workshop and performance tours with expert teaching artists and professional-quality drums and other traditional instruments from Africa for purchase. She is founder of Motherland Rhythm Community, a 501c3 non-profit organization focused on creating community and connecting cultures through hand drumming, co-founder of Benkadi Project, which offers charitable assistance to address education, health and basic human needs in Guinea, and the Diamana Diya and Mboray Nani performance ensembles.
Helen performs and teaches classes in Malinke percussion for children and adults in the Chicago area, including regular workshops at the Round Lake Beach Cultural & Civic Center in Round Lake Beach, and the Jack Benny Center for the Arts in Waukegan. She is adjunct-faculty at Lake Forest College where she teaches the “West African Drumming Ensemble” class.
Her workshops provide a unique and energizing opportunity to experience the joy and power of community drumming. Helen’s accessible and patient teaching style allows students of all ages and abilities - from complete novices to experienced players -- to progress steadily in skill and experience and grasp the complex and intricate melodies and polyrhythms of West African music. She also offers workshops focusing on non-traditional original compositions that awaken innate creativity and provide a channel for introspective journey. Participants in these exciting community drum experiences feel refreshed, revitalized and rejuvenated through encountering the primal rhythms of life.
In addition to extensive studies with Famoudou Konate, Helen has also studied with Master Drummer Mamady Keita, Nansedy Keita, Sekou Conde, Sayon Camara, Mamady "M’bandy" Kourouma, Mamady Kouyate, Solo Keita, Namory Keita, Ubaka Hill, Babatunde Olatunji, and many others. She has studied West African dance with Fanta Kaba and Fanta Diawara as well as others in Guinea.
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Video Helen took during her travels in Guinea