Center for Arts in Medicine

Community Engagement


AIM for Africa: The Gambia

The Gambia, Africa's smallest country, runs along the course of the Gambia River as it flows into the Atlantic. Surrounded on 3 sides by Senegal, The Gambia is only 20 miles wide, and 200 miles long.

In August, 2007, Dr. Charles (Chuck) Levy visited the Gambia, with support from the Center for Arts in Medicine and the State of Florida, Division of Cultural Affairs. His goals were two-fold. He wanted to learn about the akonting, the African ancestor to the banjo, and he also sought to establish a partnership between the Akonting Center for Senegambian Folk Culture (ACSFC), The Royal Victorian Teaching Hospital (RVTH) in Banjul, Gambia, the Florida Banjo Society (FBS) , and the UF Center for Arts in Medicine.

Dr. Levy's trip was successful on all counts. With further funding from the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and with the help of the Florida Banjo Society, the Center for Arts in Medicine has embarked on the AIM for Africa Akonting/Banjo Collaborative, a cultural exchange program with the Akonting Center and the Royal Victorian Teaching Hospital.

July 2007: Gambia Residency

Center affiliated Faculty member/Advisory Board Chairman and Banjoist, Dr. Charles Levy spent two weeks in the Gambia and Senegal sharing musical traditions with Akonting players and performing residency activities at the Royal Victorian Teaching Hospital in Banjul.

March 2008: Gambia Residency

Jill Sonke and Cindy Nelly lead a group of College of the Arts students (from the Arts in Health at UF student organization) and nurses to Gambia on two-week residency in the Gambia for cultural exchange activities with local artists and health/public health systems. 

March 2008: Florida Residency

Senegalese akonting player, Sana Ndiaye, performed a residency in Gainesville from March 18-29, 2008. In addition to performances and presentations in the Akonting/Banjo Symposium and Concert, Sana's residency activities will include public performances for patients, visitors, and staff in the lobbies, clinics, and at the bedside of Shands at UF, Shands at AGH, Shands Medical Plaza, Shands Children’s Hospital, and the Malcolm Randall VA Medical Center.

June 2008: Senegambia Residency

Nina Stoyan-Rosenzweig lead a group of medical students and pre-medical AMSA Arts in Medicine students to the Gambia for a four-week residency in the summer of 2008. The group volunteered at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Brikama Hospital, Kubuneh Health Clinic, and in Kanuma village, providing medical and arts exchanges.

The Akonting/Banjo Collaborative

The banjo, with its roots in Africa, has been a tremendous vehicle of American cultural expression. The AIM for Africa Akonting/Banjo Collaborative explores and celebrates this common heritage by creating a cultural bridge between Florida and the Senegal/Gambia (Senegambia) region of West Africa through rich, interactive programs including the Akonting/Banjo Symposium.

On March 20, 2008, the Center for Arts in Medicine convened the AIM for Africa Akonting/Banjo Symposium to explore the common ancestry and unique musical and cultural expressions of the New World banjo and its West African ancestors, including the akonting, a three-stringed instrument played by the Jola people of Senegal and Gambia, and the ngoni, a plucked lute from Mali. Through presentations, discussion, and musical performances, the symposium examined the roles of the music, performers and instruments in West African and American cultures, as they relate to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, minstrelsy, bluegrass, and old-time music, and to communal life and health. Highlights of the AIM for Africa Akonting/Banjo Symposium included:

  • Presentations and performances by Dr. Chuck Levy, Cheick Hamala Diabatecute;, Bob Carlin, Sana Ndiaye, Bill Keith, Ken Perlman, Laura Boosinger, Dan Gellert, Greg C. Adams, Paul Sedgwick, and Shlomo Pestcoe.
  • Symposium Presenter Biographies
  • Symposium Press Release
  • AIM for Africa Akonting/Banjo Concert, March 20, 2008 at the Thomas Center, 302 NE 6th Avenue in Gainesville at 7:00pm, including an introductory talk by Shlomo Pestcoe.
  • Opening Lecture (30 minutes) – Banjo Beginnings: The Early Gourd Banjo & Its West African Roots. (Shlomo Pestcoe with Greg C. Adams)  The banjo known today evolved from gourd-bodied plucked lutes first created by enslaved Africans in the Caribbean in the late 17th century. Noted banjo historians Shlomo Pestcoe and Greg C. Adams will offer a fascinating look at the early gourd banjo as documented in the historical record and depicted in period art. Drawing on the latest findings of recent research, they will explore the early gourd banjo’s creation in the African Diaspora of the New World and its roots in the family of diverse plucked lutes found throughout West Africa.
  • Performances by Cheick Hamala Diabaté and Bob Carlin, Sana Ndiaye, and the Suwannee Banjo Camp All Stars: Laura Boosinger, Dan Gellert, Bill Keith, Ken Perlman, and Chuck Levy.
  • 2008 AIM for Africa events are sponsored by the Arts in Medicine Program with support from the Digital Worlds Institute, the Center for African Studies, the State of Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, and the City of Gainesville Division of Cultural Affairs.

For more information about this program, contact Dr. Charles Levy.

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