I lost the use of my legs when I was fourteen. Being disabled was devastating because in Guinea people with disabilities are thought to bring shame and bad luck upon their family and village. To protect the larger group, disabled people are sent away from their homes, cut off from the ritual and daily lives of the community. My case was no different. After my paralysis, I was taken out of school and sent to live in my grandfather’s village deep in the forest. After several years in the village, the time came for the coming-of-age ceremony when the young men dance the traditional steps into manhood.
I knew if I did not participate in this ceremony ~ if I did not dance ~ I would forever remain separate and cut off from my community. I reconstructed the traditional steps dancing on my hands instead of my feet. I found a way of moving that was true to the traditional rhythms and steps while also being true to the capacities of my body. I sang and danced at the coming-of-age ceremony and reconnected with my community and my culture. I continue dancing and singing to reaffirm that connection.
My music brought me to America, where I continue to reach people with my message of hope and inclusion and brings happiness especially to those audiences who have felt separated from life by misfortune.
At the age of 14, Sidiki Conde lost the use of his legs as the result of polio. In his village in Guinea, West Africa, disabled people commonly were banished from their homes in order not to bring shame or bad luck upon their family, so he was sent to his grandfather’s village deep in the forest. Knowing that he would not be able to participate in the coming-of-age ceremony if he could not dance, Sidiki reconstructed the traditional steps using his hands instead of his feet. He became so adept that he was able to travel to the capital city, Conakry, and form Message de Espair, an orchestra of artists with disabilities he recruited from the city’s streets. In 1987, he was asked to join the prestigious troupe Les Merveilles de Guinea and he composed and directed musical arrangements for them as well as serving as director of choreography. While in Africa, Conde also worked as a musician and arranger with popular African musicians, such as Youssou N’Dour, Salifa Keita, and Baba Maal. In addition, he has made a special effort to teach workshops for Very Special Arts and to instruct other young people with challenges in life. In 1998, he formed the Tokounou All-Abilities Dance and Music Ensemble and teaches children in the public schools.