Madeleine Yayodele Nelson was the founder and guiding light of Women of the Calabash, a company of percussionist/singers that celebrated the music of Africa and the African diaspora. The company performed in concerts and festivals in the U.S. and overseas. Nelson played a variety of percussion instruments, specializing in the shekere, a dried gourd covered with beads, which she handcrafted, played and taught. As a solo artist, Nelson recorded with Paul Simon, Edie Brickell, and Billy Harper. She was also involved with a number of groups in addition to her own, notably mbiraNYC, Kalunga, and Alakande!
In 2014, Nelson talked about having played for four presidents, including “Thomas Sankara, who invited Women of the Calabash to Burkina Faso in 1985. … We did shows, shows were done for us, they took us around to three different cities, and the president invited us for lunch. And I gave him a shekere. When we were invited to Africa, I wrote the song ‘Coming Home’ because we were coming home. I wrote it on a steel pan, which was not familiar to a lot of people there. So when we played it, people would come and gather to look in at it. For me, performance is a constant learning experience and something that makes me so happy and makes other people happy. … I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
–Profiles in Art, Westbeth.org
Photo: Karim J. Nelson