How a Dancer, Drummer and Polio Survivor Spends His Sundays

Sidiki Conde is a dancer and drummer who makes much of his living teaching school children and performing his own style of dancing on his hands (he lost the use of his legs to polio at the age of 14). When the pandemic hit schools and venues last March, he lost most of his bread-and-butter appearances.

But Mr. Conde, a native Guinean who moved to New York in 1998, was supported in part by an online concert series called Beat of the Boroughs: NYC Online. Organized by the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, the project has given over 50 immigrant artists a grant to stream their performances since October. The series will be completed this spring.

59-year-old Conde lives with his wife, artist Deborah Ross, and their 21-year-old cat Mimi in a walk-in building on the fifth floor in Manhattan’s East Village. He goes up the stairs with his hands. On Sundays he goes to Tompkins Square Park or Central Park to sing, dance and drum for passers-by. On the way he greets his many friends. “Sidiki knows every homeless person in the neighborhood,” said Ms. Ross. “He’s like the Mayor of the East Village.”

HANDS-ON I wake up around 7:00 am to pray. I am muslim. After praying, I sit down and watch the news for a while and refuel with tea. Sometimes I bring tea to Deborah. I climb onto a stool to put the water on the stove. We live in an old tenement house that is not equipped for people with disabilities so I have to do what I have to do. Then I practice my music a little. I don’t practice my dancing because my living room is so small. To maintain my strength, I go up and down the five floors. It is my practice during the pandemic when I am not getting enough exercise.

AFRICAN ESSENTIALS Many Guineans live in the First Avenue and 34th Street area, and the area is full of African foods and markets. I go there to buy my calling card and to buy potato leaf and peanut sauce, traditional African food. When it’s warm, I go into my handwheel, a bicycle that you pedal with your hands. In the cold, I take a wheelchair or an electric vehicle, which is just a three-wheeled electric scooter. It’s better in winter because the wheelchair gets very cold, but I’m used to it. And now the mask will keep your nose warm.

VIRAL WISDOM I call my sisters and brothers and my two sons and my uncle in Guinea. In 2014, Deborah and I went to Guinea when Ebola hit. We organized the neighborhoods, worked with all the elders, and performed these grand dance ceremonies to bring people together and help them understand what was happening. At the time, they did not let any healthcare workers in. We had to convince them. From my experience with polio, which people were prejudiced against, I could say, “I know about these things.”

HELP AT HOME Now we are concerned about Guinea during the pandemic. We are the main financial support for most of my family there. We were able to get my brother PPE. He is a doctor. For a while they did not let in food from the grocery section of the country, and people in the villages went hungry. It’s a little better now.

JAM SESSION I’m going to the park to relax a little. Some people are waiting for me, they are looking for me. Some are musicians. I play two hours. People will dance with me. I bring my guguman, a traditional West African instrument made from a pumpkin and with keys. I don’t see the musicians in my band anymore because we teach on Zoom. We teach adults with cerebral palsy on Long Island. When I go to the park, I can practice without them.

TWO MEAL NIGHT For the rest of the afternoon, I relax on my sofa and talk to people I know on Facebook or watch comedy videos from Guinea on YouTube. For dinner I eat food that I get from the same African place. You can reserve these huge meals and bring them home. Sometimes I pray and sometimes I fall asleep on the sofa after dinner and my wife wakes me up. The pandemic made me sluggish. I always get up and eat another big meal at midnight.

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