So why do we do it?
Perhaps we are motivated, as students often are, to become just like the great artists and entertainers that define our favorite genres. Maybe we are compelled to pursue this career because we can understand and successfully navigate the commerce of a creative economy, enough so to make a living.
Some of the best do it because, after logging thousands of hours in sweat equity, they've developed an emotionally intelligent lifestyle. They are the true masters of the craft, as they rejoice in adventure and discovery, and do not stand still. They do this together with the like-minded, and they make the planet more diverse, more enjoyable.
I am in awe of the artist David Kobrenski, a true leader in several fields. Based in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, Dave is a formidable musician, painter, instrument builder, graphic artist, web designer, scholar and author. He is also a loyal friend and an inspiration.
Since 2001 Dave has traveled extensively in West Africa to study music with master musicians Famoudou Konaté, Nansady Keita, Sayon Camara, and Lanciné Condé, and to document the sounds, images, lifework and spirit of the Malinké people. His many discoveries have been brought back to the United States, and shared with the public through various musical ensembles, paintings, sketches, and stories.
Dave is currently preparing for the release of his first book: Djoliba Crossing Journeys into West African Music & Culture. The work is a detailed account of Kobrenski's many journeys, and offers stories, history, cultural information, illustrations, music transcriptions and maps. While each of these elements can be appreciated separately, it's evident that they are meant to inform one another and offer a glimpse of West Africa in the present day.
Similarly, one can see the great lesson that underscores the book, Dave's career, and the West African tradition: that artistic genres, fields, formats and mediums do not exist in a vacuum. They grow out of the work and efforts of real human beings, and as such can be supported or forgotten by people.
I believe that Kobrenski is one of the "torch bearers" of our age in the field of human connectivity and service. I've had the honor to listen to and play music with Dave on several occasions. It's clear to me (whether witnessed on the bandstand or in the audience) that he possesses the highest degree of skill for communication, and thus community awareness. His work, while it seeks to simultaneously preserve and expand music-making in the African tradition, is teaching (many who have forgotten) how to listen, play, and dance together.
And importantly so, is the word together.