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Out of Africa experience

Entering Africa has never been easier thanks to performers Afridonia who have transformed a resource centre into a model African village at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Edinburgh-based Afridonia (also known as The Magic of Africa out of Scotland) has been touring schools, running workshops in universities and community centres and appearing at festivals since 1995.

In the past year, this semi-professional family company has run more than 100 African music and story-telling workshops in the capital, the Lothians, Glasgow and Dundee.

The group - which has just returned from a successful visit to the Singapore National Arts Festival where its blend of Scottish pipes and African drums was much praised - is completing a three-week run at the Festival with two shows - An African Family Village and The Magic of Africa.

On the set of the African Family Village at the Bonnington Centre, you are greeted by the village chief, his two wives, their musicians, a Scottish piper on a visit to Africa and the chief's daughters who begin the celebrations with a dance. This is introduced by the chief who says: "Long before we had the telephone, we had the talking drums."

Within minutes the chief (in real-life, African prince Pius Nyiam) has the visiting children gathered round his feet for the first of many stories. The show is an interactive experience with everyone dancing, getting the chance to play drums, taste African food and drink and visit an African market. Children are mesmerised and quickly lose their inhibitions.

Alec Dehaney, chair of Afridonia, says: "We are pursuing harmony in music and therefore harmony among peoples. Look at those children dance! It's said Europeans have got no rhythm. We've proved that's not true. Get rid of the inhibitions and they've got rhythm. And get them young."

While the group cannot recreate the village in a school environment, it offers musical workshops and story-telling sessions for both primary and secondary schools.

"The educational value of what we do can be seen in our own youngsters, " says Alec Dehaney, proudly introducing 14-year-old Jennifer, who is one of more than 20 Scottish-African performers in the company.

She says: "I joined at 11. It certainly gives me confidence and I'd say my school work has definitely improved because of it."

Alec Dehaney adds: "It's essentially a young people's thing but age is not a concern. Afridonia began with one or two Scottish-African families in Edinburgh and it just grew. It is essentially a cultural sharing and the engine behind it is sheer dedication."

Afridonia does not receive any government, arts or local authority funding. But this year it did win #163;1,000 first prize for best float on the Festival Fringe Cavalcade.

As well as visiting schools this autumn, Afridonia will run music workshops at St Andrew's Hall (behind the St James Centre) in Edinburgh.

Afridonia shows run at Bonnington Resource Centre August 28 and 29, 5. 30pm and 8.15pm. Further information on Afridonia and tickets from: 0131 229 7771.

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