MusicUnitesUS presents: A Taste of Ghana

A weeklong showcase of the music, dance and culture of Ghana

Drummers play Ghanaian drums.
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"A Taste of Ghana" will be held Friday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. in Levin Ballroom on the Brandeis Campus. Tickets are available online, by phone at (781) 736-3400, and in person at Shapiro Campus Center. The concert is presented as part of a weeklong residency presented by MusicUnitesUS, a program that furthers understanding and appreciation of cultures through music.

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In the winter of 2017, the African music scene was rocked by explosive comments about African countries emanating from the highest office in our country. In this political climate, it felt especially important to reaffirm the richness, beauty and value of Africa here on campus. I decided that as a drummer and percussionist from the Boston area who has spent much of the past 12 years studying and performing in Ghana, my contribution to this celebration of Africa would be to curate “A Taste of Ghana,” a weeklong residency at Brandeis showcasing the music and dance of one of the many culturally rich nations of West Africa.

Roughly the same geographic size as Oregon, Ghana is home to a rich, diverse collection of cultures, many with their own language, food and religion. And, of course, music and dance. These musical forms range from the thunderous Fontomfrom court music of the Asante people, the lunga talking drums that the Dagomba use as a form of speech, the intricate Agbekor call-and-response music of the Ewe, and the grooving Kpanlogo hand-drum rhythms of the Ga people.

Individually, any one of these traditions contains a lifetime of study and no one person could ever master every one of them. So this festival brings together experts in each tradition to present an overview of the nation’s rich heritage – a taste of Ghana.

Under the auspices of MusicUnitesUS, Brandeis’ world music residency series, Brandeis will present a weeklong showcase of the music, dance and culture of Ghana from Nov. 12 to Nov. 16. Five world-class Ghanaian performing artists – Attah Poku, Gloria Nyame, Francis Akotuah, Comfort Tetteh and Koblavi Dogah – will give lectures and workshops on campus and in the Waltham community. The residency culminates in a West African festival-style concert, complete with Ghanaian food, on Friday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m. in Levin Ballroom, Usdan Student Center. 

It will be the first time these performers, who represent the four major ethnic traditions of Ghana, have shared a stage – and we cannot wait to see the chemistry that results. They will be joined by the Ahenema Cultural Group, the leading Asante drum and dance group in the United States, for a cappella Nnwonkoro singing in the Twi language and royal Fontomfrom drumming from the Asante palace. And no performance of Ghanaian music on campus would be complete without Fafali, the Brandeis drum and dance ensemble. “A Taste of Ghana” will allow us to experience the various Ghanaian cultures together for the first time, both in intimate learning environments and in a joyous final festival-style performance.

Ben Paulding is a lecturer in music at Brandeis and directs the ensemble Fafali: Music and Dance from Ghana. He plays drums and percussions in Kotoko Brass and the Agbekor Society. This article originally appeared in State of the Arts

Ben Pauding plays with drummers in Ghana
Ben Paulding performing with Asante Queen Mother's Kete ensemble in Ghana, 2018. Photo: courtesy, Ben Paulding

Meet the Artists

Attah Poku was born and raised in the Asante king’s palace, and grew up playing drums in the percussion entourage that accompanies the Asante monarch across West Africa. He teaches Ghanaian drumming at Tufts University.

Gloria Nyame is an Asante dancer who danced professionally throughout Ghana and Nigeria with the Centre for National Culture and the Adinkra Cultural Troupe. She is based in New York City, where she dances with the Ahenema Cultural Troupe.

Francis Akotuah grew up in the capital city of Accra, and is widely considered an expert of Ga hand drumming. He teaches at the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Oakland, California.

Comfort Tetteh is a Ga singer and dancer who has worked as principal dancer with the Ghana Dance Ensemble, and has performed throughout Europe, Africa and the United States. She is based in New York City.

Koblavi Dogah was born into the Ewe tradition and is known for his spirited approach to Ewe dance. He graduated from the Berklee College of Music, and is based in Burlington, Vermont.

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