Her father knew, perhaps since her birth, that she would be a dancer. He wouldn’t admit it at first, and it wasn’t open for discussion—she needed to focus on her studies. But her mother was a professional dancer, and if you had asked her grandparents, they would have spun stories about life paths, destinies and fate.
So it was that at the age of 8, Mabiba Baegne—today the artistic director for the Lokolé Dance and Music Conference—became initiated into the art of Congolese healing dance. For a week, people came to her hometown of Brazzaville, Congo, passing on intricate knowledge of dance. If her personal teacher hadn’t died before the second of five lifetime initiation sessions, Mabiba likely would have stayed in Brazzaville—taking her post as a healer, dancing for every birth, every sick child and every important societal hallmark.
But Mabiba’s life path wasn’t fated that way.
“By the time I was 15, I really didn’t want to do it because it was so much responsibility,” says Mabiba. “I wanted to travel and just be a professional dancer, not a healer. It was not my destiny to be a healer.”
So she studied and quickly excelled in dance, both traditional and modern. In 1970, she joined the National Dance Troupe of the Congo and toured most of Africa and Europe. It was a UNESCO grant that put the final nail in the coffin of becoming a healer, providing her with the funding to move to Paris to continue her studies abroad.
“If I had gone through the whole initiation, I was expected to become a healer, stay in the Congo and work with kids,” says Mabiba. “Believe me, I love kids and my whole life is dance. But, I can help kids by teaching them dance, and that is what I do.”
That is why, after a long professional career of international travel and performance—including choreographing the International Festival of Fashion in 1988 and the film Climbing Stars with Laurent Chevalier—Mabiba felt the need to settle a bit. From her first visit in 1994, she knew that she would live in Salt Lake City, perhaps another nod to destiny in her life. As her grandparents always told her, fate sometimes does the directing. And although she’s still in demand as a master dance teacher and drummer around the world—she spends the majority of her time traveling—she decided to develop something closer to her adopted home.
Lokolé sprang from that need. In its third annual incarnation, Lokolé—named for traditional Congolese drums made out of hollow logs—has evolved into a five-day conference and cultural exchange that brings together dance and music from Congo, Zimbabwe, Brazil and Mali. The latter is a new addition this year, part of a goal of introducing a new cultural tradition at each Lokolé, as Burkina Faso and Guinea were in previous years.
Not only do masters from the guest country come and teach, they also spend part of the conference delivering informal lectures about their culture. This year, Malian dancer Djeneba Sako and drummer Moussa Traore will join the core staff of Rujeko Dumbutshena, Rhonda Stagnaro Low, Wilson Low, Chris Berry and Constant Massengo in teaching classes and workshops. Some are geared toward children, others toward adults of all skill levels.
Echoing her grandparents, Mabiba can’t help but pay homage to that initial initiation, accepting that her life path just took her in her own direction.
“I know that it’s going to take a long time, but one day Lokolé is going to be a place—possibly even a center—that kids can come and learn about African history, dance and drumming,” says Mabiba. “Even though I don’t heal people through dance in my own country, I teach children, bringing together all different kinds of people to learn from each other. Teaching music and dance is my destiny, and I think Salt Lake is ready for Lokolé.”