Africa to Appalachia to the Emerald Isle

Danny Knicely, Rob Coltun, Cheick Hamala Diabate, Yuma Bellomee, and Riley Baugus

What an amazing time we had in Ireland! CCV returned to the Clifden Arts Festival in beautiful Connemara, this time accompanying From Africa to Appalachia, a musical project that delves into the historical connections between West African and Appalachian music. The project featured renowned Malian n’goni master and griot Cheick Hamala Diabate, accomplished old-time banjo player Riley Baugus, and versatile multi-instrumentalist Danny Knicely, bassist Rob Coltun, and djembe player Yuma Bellomee.  

In 2022, we first came to Clifden and Ireland with NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award-winning gospel group the Legendary Ingramettes. The kind hospitality extended to the Ingramettes in Clifden and throughout the west of Ireland was overwhelming, and the connections made there and throughout our stay in Ireland reverberate still. Our presentation of From Africa to Appalachia built upon the Ingramettes’ triumphant 2022 visit and its resulting exploration into the profound impacts of the cultural encounters between Africans and Europeans in the Americas.

During our stay in Clifden, From Africa to Appalachia performed a standing room only concert at the Clifden Town Hall and a raucous performance at the local school. At the Town Hall concert the group was joined by two young Irish djembe drummers Barra Ó’ Flanniagh and David Keane, who we met while performing a club show in Galway in partnership with Galway African Diaspora, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting African cultural events in the city.

In addition to the festival performances, the artists participated in a cultural exchange and public performance at Interface, a fascinating local contemporary arts center with stellar musicians from County Clare including harmonium player and vocalist Ceara Conway, harpist Paul Dooley, and mandolinist Declan Corey.

While not performing on concert stages, the artists could be found jamming into the wee hours with local musicians in the pubs in and around Clifden. They even got to play at Matt Malloy’s in the charming town of Westport in County Mayo, and the pub’s namesake—and founding member of the Irish supergroup the Chieftans—even stopped by to join the fun.

We are deeply grateful to all the hardworking staff of the Clifden Arts Festival for their incredible hospitality and kindness during our stay.  We were also deeply touched by the reception we received from the residents of Clifden, and want to extend special thanks to the good folks at McGrath’s pub owned by the incomparable Carey Family for their fantastic jam sessions and perfect pints!

All photos by Marek Petrovic.