It’s been 20 years since Mabiba Baegne last brought her African dance and music magic to Missoula.

Among the many things that have changed since then: the Garden City became, in just the past few months, home to more than two dozen refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

They’re invited, as is everyone, to Baegne’s drum, dance and song workshops Thursday through Saturday at the Missoula Senior Center.

Unity Dance and Drum, which promotes African music and dance in Missoula, often brings in special guests like Baegne to conduct classes, said Tarn Ream, a University of Montana dance instructor and the organization’s co-founder. But this one comes with an added attraction – a social gathering and pot luck on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The gathering will afford western Montanans a chance to meet in an informal setting their new neighbors from Africa and share some of the happier aspects of lives battered by war and persecution.

“You think about all the countries in Africa that are engaged in war,” Ream said. “For so many of them music and dance are still part of their lives. It’s a big part of survival for them to have these sweet moments of formalized singing and dancing and playing music together. It’s such a huge multicultural kind of thing. So that’s my inspiration.”

Baegne is a towering presence, in person and in her chosen world. She was born in Brazzaville, the capital and largest city in the Republic of the Congo, across the Congo River from the home country of the Missoula refugees. After moving to the United States, Baegne founded Lokole, an organization in Reno, Nevada, promoting education, performance, and workshops in African music and dance.

Baegne, who Ream describes as “a phenomenal singer,” was initiated into dancing by her grandparents when she was 8. She later studied West African dundun drumming with a master drummer in Guinea and became the first woman to teach the form in the United States.

Baegne was also one of Ream’s first teachers and one of the first guest teachers for Unity Dance and Drum in 1997.

“I’ve been wanting to bring her back to Missoula for a long time,” Ream said.

There’s a sliding fee for Baegne’s classes, from $20 for participants 16 and over to free for those 8 and under.

You’ll need a ticket for the Saturday gathering, but it is free. Space is limited and donations of $5 to $50 are encouraged. Tickets can be picked up at any of the five workshops prior to the gathering or at the door. Ream said she welcomes anyone to drop in to any of the 90-minute workshops.

“Even if they want to come and watch they can,” she said.

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