Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sidike Conde Does His Thing: You Don’t Need Feet to Dance

In 1985, Guinea was still a notoriously oppressive Socialist dictatorship.  It was a terrible time and place to contract polio, but such was the fate that befell Sidike Conde.  Nonetheless, he became a world class performer as a drummer and yes, a dancer.  Alan Govenar captures him in performance and going about his day-to-day business on the streets of Manhattan in You Don’t Need Feet to Dance (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Under the tutelage of his grandfather, Conde built up his arms and torso to the degree he could get about on his hands.  He was even able to dance in an important rite-of-passage ceremony using his arms instead of legs.  That would actually be the start of an incredible career.

Conde has indeed performed with the likes of Youssou N’Dour and Salifa Keita.  He has led his own ensembles and toured internationally.  Yet, like most musicians, he essentially scrapes by living in New York.  Apparently, his bread-and-butter work comes from school assemblies and private workshops.  Govenar documents one of the latter such apartment gigs—a whole lot of it, in fact.

There is no question Conde is a laudable figure and a talented artist, who makes the world around him a better place with his music and enthusiasm.  However, with respect to Governar’s doc, that regard only extends so far.  Strictly observational in his approach, Govenar spends far too much time at each stop on Conde’s itinerary.  After ten minutes at a workshop, viewers are entitled to feel a tad antsy.  We get it already.

Granted, N’Dour is probably the busiest performer on the planet, but some commentary from someone of his stature would have really helped open the film up.  Perhaps even more frustrating, the performance footage, though ample, is never presented in a manner that allows the audience to truly get caught up in the music.  Still, jazz fans might be interested to know Oz Noy performs on several of the tracks from Conde’s CD heard throughout the film.

Govenar certainly convinces us Conde is a great guy, which is admittedly one measure of success.  Yet on purely cinematic terms, You Don’t Need Feet to Dance is not so remarkable.  Recommended primarily for rabid world music fans and Conde admirers, it opens tomorrow (3/22) at the Quad Cinema.