When Jean Arsenault first connected with Sadio Sissokho, the two had what might be called a "communication gap."
"It was a week after he had arrived in Montreal and he (referring to his Sissokho, a native of Senegal) didn't speak French and only a bit of English. But we had a common language in music."
Indeed, that first encounter in 2004 has grown exponentially with their group, "Ouanani" in town last week and performing this Wednesday evening at the Sarnia Public Library Theatre.
Three of the five members of Ouanani will perform at the 7 p.m. concert, tickets for which are $5.50 and available at the door or through the Lawrence House Centre for the Performing Arts.
Joining Arsenault and Sissokho will be Patrice Agbokou, who was born in Ghana-Togo.
Until recently, Ouanani has performed mostly for French-speaking audiences in Alberta (Edmonton), Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick.
Sarnia is something of a departure from that, says Arsenault, who makes his living exclusively with Ouanani (the visit here is made possible by a grant secured by Lawrence House).
"Now, we are beginning to see the opportunity to perform to English audiences as well. It's something we'll likely do more and more, especially given the warm response we've had here in Sarnia."
That has included a number of workshops and performances, including a noon hour concert at SCITS on Monday.
Arsenault says most of the musicians who perform with Ouanani are "economic refugees" to Montreal.
"I come from Lac St. Jean, which is a small community of about 35,000," he adds. "There's no way I could make a living from my music but in Montreal, we (Ouanani) can all make a living in that bigger city."
As Sissokho sits down to perform on his kora, a traditional African stringed instrument that might be described as a combination of harp and guitar, Arsenault elaborates on the vision he and his fellow musicians have for the group.
"It's about promoting a culture of oneness," he says, nodding to Sissokho as he explains. "We are all one and we can live together in peace and harmony. That's our mission."
By J.D. BOOTH