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Drumming for a new way of life

The Amazones, performing Saturday at Brandeis, have been criticized at home in Guinea for playing the djembe, traditionally reserved for men. (DENISE TAYLOR FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE)

If you think the Dixie Chicks took a big risk by criticizing President Bush, consider Amazones: The Women Master Drummers of Guinea. In 1998, this group of nine Guinean women began studying the djembe, a drum long reserved for the men of their country. The public was outraged. Some of their families disowned them. Others were told to choose between their new career and their husbands.

But Amazones founder Mamoudou Conde, who has managed the West African country's top national acts, encouraged the women to stick with it. They did, and with the guidance of one of the country's most revered djembe players, Aly Sylla, the women learned to master this ancient instrument.

And now they play with a fury, pounding out heart-racing rhythms and dancing into near frenzies. The troupe -- in Waltham on Saturday as part of a two-year world tour -- is racking up rave reviews and challenging social conventions.

"Women in the West play the djembe, but in Guinea, where the djembe comes from, no woman would even touch one. I wanted to change that," said Conde. "People are still shocked, but things have slowly changed."

"Amazones" perform 8 p.m. Saturday in Brandeis University's Spingold Theater, 415 South St., Waltham. Tickets: $20; $10 seniors/students; $5 children 12 and younger . Call 781-736-3400 or visit brandeis.edu, click on link to events; or amazoneswomandrummers.com.

PRODUCTIVE NAP TIMES --She call s herself the nap-time artist. As her daughters drift off to sleep each day, Abby Glassenberg of Wellesley pulls out a stack of colorful cloths, scoots up to her sewing machine, and starts working its foot pedal. And from under her needle, creatures both graceful and cuddly grow.

Squishy elephants emerge with floppy ears made of vintage cotton prints. Leggy birds sprout intricate cloth feathers. Funky lizards take on forms that recall the simple lines of Japanese animé cartoons.

"It's like a zoo in my studio," said Glassenberg, 31, who credits her new side career to the Internet.

"When my oldest daughter was about 9 months, I started getting really antsy for something creative to do," said Glassenberg, who left a social studies teaching position at Brown Middle School in Newton to care for her daughter in 2004.

While trolling the Internet for ideas, the new mom came across an Australian web site called A Month of Softies. The site put out a monthly call to artists to make a specific stuffed critter and send its photo in. At the time, they wanted cushy monsters.

"I've always sewn a little here and there. I bought myself a sewing machine at 13 after taking home ec, and that's what I still use," said Glassenberg. "So, while my daughter was napping, I made a monster. I sent its picture in. And that was the beginning."

Soon, Glassenberg found herself immersed in the online world of softies, or stuffed toys and art. "It turns out there's this huge community world wide of women who have craft blogs... They make things and use their blog as a record of their successes and failures and techniques and tips," she said. "And I found all these other women who were making soft toys at home."

Inspired by blogger-recommended antique patterns and Japanese craft books, and her own love of vintage material, Glassenberg began making toys safe for small children -- as well as show pieces that were soon being snapped up by adults.

She now has her own blog, an online shop, and items for sale in area boutiques. Two of her patterns will appear in an upcoming Penguin Australia softies craft book. Meanwhile, several of her animals have made it into exhibitions in the United States and Australia, and her first solo show, "While She Naps," opens today at the Wellesley Free Library and runs until the end of the month.

"There are softies shows all around. It's something that is really... growing," she said. "Particularly at indie craft shows, I see a lot of plush artists."

And who buys softies? "A lot of adults say they buy them for their kids and some really do, but really they're often for them," said Glassenberg. "I find adults just like to have them around."

"While She Naps" runs through March 31 at Wellesley Free Library, 530 Washington St., during library hours. Free. Call 781-235-1610 or visit Glassenberg's website, whileshenaps.typepad.com.

"FAITHFUL" TO STAGE -- What happens when a hit man hired to kill a man's wife ties her up but has to wait hours for the husband to give the final go-ahead?

In the play "Faithful," the two people taking part in this rather awkward tete-a-tete eventually start having a conversation -- about everything.

"It's a fascinating character piece, but it's also a really fun ride as a thriller," said J. Mark Baumhardt, who is directing the ongoing Acme Theater Productions show in Maynard.

Written by actor and playwright Chazz Palminteri ("A Bronx Tale"), "Faithful" began life as an off-Broadway theater piece and landed on the big screen in 1996, with Cher playing the distraught (and suicidal) Maggie. But Baumhardt says the intrigue is even better up close.

"With a show like this, with such interesting characters, it's more exciting and tense to see the story unfold in person. I really enjoy theater that comes from truth and realism. In other words, I want to create theater that when you sit in the audience you feel like you are peeking into the window of this house and actually watching events."

The ArtSpace Maynard audiences get a taste of Palminteri's gallows humor as well as a good look at insecurities, pain, betrayal, and "all things that everybody at one level or another has experienced. It really makes for exciting theater," said Baumhardt.

Kimberly McClure of Framingham (Maggie), Bill Stambaugh of Holbrook (hit man Tony), and David Wood of Ashland (husband Jack) star in the show.

"Faithful" continues Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m., through March 17 at the Acme Theater in ArtSpace Maynard, 61 Summer St., Maynard. Also, March 11, 3 p.m.; and March 15, 8 p.m. Tickets: $15; seniors/students $14; all tickets March 15, $12. Call 978-823-0003 or visit acmetheater.com.

TEENS SING DISNEY -- Members of a Holliston-based teen singing troupe, Over the Top, know there's nothing like belting out the Mickey Mouse Club song and "It's a Small World," which is why they're holding their fifth annual Disney Show concert and sing-along this weekend.

Fans of the Magic Kingdom will be invited to sing those two favorites at the family event. Then the 24-member group of 8th - to 12th -graders will regale the crowd with favorites from "Pocahontas," "Mulan," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," and more.

Over the Top performs 7 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday (snow date 3 p.m. Sunday) at Adams Middle School, 323 Woodland St., Holliston. Tickets: $8; children/students/seniors $5. Call 508-429-9968.

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