Sidiki Conde celebrates a walking living miracle

MISANI Special to the AmNews | 4/5/2013, 10:52 a.m.
Sidiki Conde celebrates a walking living miracle

"I am a Muslim. I believe God! Whatever I have today is because God purposed it for me. I believe that," says renowned Guinean artist, musician and singer Sidiki Conde in the new film, "You Don't Need Feet to Dance," by filmmaker, writer and photographer Alan Govenar.

The enlightening documentary explores the unbelievable life of Conde, an esteemed 51-year-old folklorist, a distinguished instructor of Guinea's traditional culture and the winner of the National Endowment of the Arts' 2007 National Heritage Fellowship. He immigrated to New York in 1998.

Through Govenar's insightful lens, we enter the intimate world of Conde he awakens early one morning, gets out of bed, does his toiletries and dresses. There is no audio accompanying the visuals as all of this takes place. Upon making his way into the kitchen, where he feeds his two cats and his fixes coffee, Conde begins his moving narrative.

Born in Kankan, Guinea, to a mother who was one of his father's four wives, Conde underwent a sudden life-changing event when he was 14. "Coming from school, I fell down and never stood up again," he said. "Everything was paralyzed. My back, hand, leg ... It was polio."

Conde's backstory is unveiled as he shares how he was sent to live with his grandfather in the village of Tokonou. It was here where he learned to live with the polio that affected his legs. By working on building his upper body strength, he learned how to walk on his hands. After this amazing breakthrough, he asked and was granted permission to participate in the rite of passage into manhood ceremony with the other young men of his community by drumming and dancing. This was the first major step Conde took in confronting the prejudice faced by people with disabilities in his community.

From its conception to the conclusion, "You Don't Need Hands to Dance" shows how Conde has used his gift as a drummer and dancer to tackle life issues. And what a journey. Leaving the city of Kankan in his late teens, he traveled to Conakry (Guinea's capital), where he, along with some friends, organized an orchestra of street artists with disabilities who toured the nation, advocating change for the disabled. He has also worked as a dancer, soloist, rehearsal master, composer and director of the celebrated dance company, Merveilles D'Afrique, and as a musician and arranger; he has collaborated with such legendary African icons as Youssou N'Dour, Salif Keita and Baaba Maal.

Govenar then propels the film forward, showing Conde leaving the interior of his East Village walk-up. A new backdrop captures his star making his way down five flights of stairs using his hands as feet, while maneuvering his djembe drum.

At the ground floor, Conde lifts himself into his wheelchair stationed at the door and exits the building. Against the soundtrack of Sidki Conde and Afro Jersey, Govenar's moving exterior shots capture the pulsating beat of Conde's community as viewers are taken on an exciting, whirlwind ride of his world. Colorful cityscape images zoom by as Conde stops at a Halal street vendor for a sandwich before accessing the ramp of a NYC bus, which takes him to the Madina Masjid Mosque, where he does his morning prayers. He also travels on the subway by using his hands and feet to get up and down the stairs.