Saturday, June 30, 2007

Soccer on the Coast

And beyond the music, a game of soccer and spectators who are undecided between soccer and drumming. I chose the drumming in the end.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The Counter Challenge

And here are the Ghanaians asserting themselves.

Drum Party

At the drum making centre of Accra, the drum makers got together to play for me. A competition started between Burkinabes and the Ghanaians. Here are the Burkinabes driving it up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

All that Rhythm

West African drumming is polyrhythmic which means several different rhythm patterns playing together to make up a drum song. The rhythms interlock, connecting each to a central rhythm theme usually played on a bell. African bells come in various shapes and sizes and are variously named according to the people-groups or tribes. There is the gangokui, of closest relation to the cow bell: there is the single bell and the mother-and-child bell where the child is shorter and lies on the belly of the mother. There are the twin bells of equal size connected by the holding stem.. There are also the boat shaped Asante firikyiwa bells and the thumb bells and many more, I haven't yet seen. Apart from these there are also the higher pitched shakers and rattles of all kinds made from combinations of gourds, seeds and baskets which may be used to anchor the rhythm. My favorite is the shekere or axatse- gourd and seed shaker. There are often a masterful complement of drums of various sizes, shapes and skins which may be played by hand, stick or hand stick combinations. These provide the different tones which make up the drum languauges. Every peoples have found the tones which speak their particular language and compel them to sing and dance the spirit of the people alive. The Malinkes prefer the djembes and the dun-duns, the Wolof prefer the sabars which come by various names. The talking drums: dono, tama are more universal although they speak by vaious tongues. There are the slit drums, bata drums, fontonfrom drums, and the water drum made out of an inverted gourd over water, as well as the calabash drum played with the heel of fists. Other popular instruments provide the melody:the kalimba or mbira, the balafon or marimba, the kora, ngoni, the seprewa and the one stringed gourd guitar, the various bamboo flutes and also very importantly the voice of the singer carrying over top of everything else.

Monday, June 25, 2007


photo credit: Randy Sutherland
On Saturday Afroculture performed UHURU for family and friends of the students of the Afroculture drum and and dance program. The performance was staged at the GYMC Recital hall. The evening unfolded with a dress up and rehearsal and our show began at 7pm prompt. I began the show with congratulations to students and a poem I had written that morning. The evening flowed effortlessly as if we were extremely well rehearsed. The dances were not flawless but filled to the brim with good energy, sweat, excitement and pleasure. The drumming vibrated in every cell of every body, waking up the dying. Yes, waking up the dying.

Uhuru- Freedom

freedom runs over

because it cannot be contained

inside a mere cup

of tin, porcelain, ceramic or gold

not even in one composed of flesh

with a lid made to fit

freedom is charged with too much pressure

within one complex compound

of life, laughter, hope and dreams

freedom bubbles over and spills

whoever it touches will be changed.

Adwoa Badoe

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Latitudes Festival 2007

The 2007 Latitudes Festival was held at the Victoria Park, in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. They were hosted by the K-W Multicultural festival, a very busy event with thousands of people passing through. We got there tewnty minutes to 6pm and I began my storytelling ten minutes early, filling the gap left by the last storyteller who may also have started early. The tent filled rapidly to Fule's drumming and my audience was enthusiastic as I told one story and then another, interspersing the folktales with songs and chants and the irresistible drum undergirding our voices. What a delightful day, filled with the colours of the whole wide world, the sun warm and yet not punishing and people walking about at ease, linking arms, hugging and greeting one another. There were lay photographers strolling about, watching out for the perfect picture to capture, of lovers staring at the dark green lake, children running around underfoot and babies squealing in their strollers, munching apples right down to the core. Among all these music filtered and swirled as though through a sieve of human bodies and intentions. We walked along without a care. If only summer would last forever....

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sister Vision Press

What do you do when your book vanishes from sight, the publishers disappear and your work of love and creativity simply disappears? Crabs for Dinner was my first published book and I have a place of honour for it in my heart. The story is amusing, fun, interesting and thoughtful for young minds and I absolutely love reading it. The trouble is not that it made me very little money (which is not strange for a first book) but then the publishing company disappeared from sight and although the company was literally a two person operating unit, I have sought them in vain. And all I want is information. This book was culled for Super Senses, an Ontario resource for schools and also written in braille. These things I found out quite by accident.
Crabs for Dinner was reviewed positively in the Globe and Mail. It was great for young minds, very useful for the children to understand and embrace the differences in cultures found in Canada, and it was very humourous with an endearing nameless character. It was edited by a dear friend and great children's author Robert Munsch. It was this book which brought us in contact with each other.
What does one do when someone disappears with another's work silently into the vague metropolis? It's almost as if my book was only a dream. A company with a slightly different name Sister Vision Educational Press has a phone number and address but nobody returns the calls. Even if there is a bankruptcy should we not at least be told what happens to our work? Can I buy it back? Can I publish it again with some other press? These two women were doing a good job for us creative women of colour. We considered them to be women of vision and leadership. Here's my advice: Bankruptcy is a tragedy I would wish on nobody but please do not let it cost you, (as women in leadership, your integrity, leadership and rsponsibility. For me, this is the real tragedy.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Dobet Gnahore

picture credit

She is the next thing after Angelique Kidjo and I watched her open air performance in Ghana , April 2007 at the Alliance Francaise where she wowed the crowd with original music sang in at least four different West African languages. This woman is electric! Sparks fly everywhere as she performs. Her presence is arresting as she switches from a decorative percussive pot to the mbira and other strange instruments which seem to complement her own unique self. Her musicians are highly skilled singers, guitarists and a drummer who seems able to play the kit drum right alongside hand drums effortlessly. We could only gape at her as she sang and changed from one instrument to another and when she got up to dance...oh my, what a dancer: sensual, expressive, amazing, awesome...mama Africa in the prime of life.
She's coming, she's stirring things with the energy of Angelique and a whole new level of magnetism.
for a piece of Dobet.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Jiwani- gye w'ani

photo credit: Randy Sutherland
Our group Jiwani has been performing since 2003 when I named it for our presentation at the Ojo Ayo festival. This group was the natural progression of my dance classes taught in Guelph since 1999...?... once my class was able to keep students enrolling year after year. We have since performed at many venues in Ontario and performed two major shows: the River Bride and The Griot's Journey, available on DVD. The life blood of the group is the dedication of its dancers and drummers, as the group requires that its performers be enrolled in on going classes to learn new material. The group also welcomes new talent identified through the Afroculture dance and drum classes. This approach means that performers are consistently learning new material and then practising in special Jiwani practice sessions toward performances.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Multicultural Festival 2.

The festival was a good place to meet friends and make new acquaintances. Children I had taught years ago had grown much bigger, babies who used to ride about in strollers were running about on strong sturdy legs. Teenagers I had last seen in grade twelve were done university and working. Time has moved along in Guelph. Our booth was a fun place all festival. We made friends with our vendor neighbours Elizabeth and Marlene who were selling specialty items from Thailand. We also made friends with Khadi whose wares hailed from Senegal. I have great memories of Dakar Senegal, the country of tall dark graceful beauties who sashay along, never ever in a hurry, with their eyes highlighted in kohl, and light billowy gowns blowing gently about them. So many people stopped by to discover rhythm in our booth or to play delightful foot tapping rhythms from Asia or Africa. We jammed with one and then another and we sold drums. Laughter spilled everywhere between queries: How much is this and then the other? What is this and then the other? We were there as much for exhibition as for sales. Everyone was welcome to touch, to feel, to play to experience. This time I wasn't able to dance to the Mariachi band as I was working. But I remembered Luis and Laura. Once upon a time we had all eaten together with Maria, Martha and Daniel at the food tent and danced to Latino music beneath the big tent. Our workshops were well attended. In Guelph people like a chance to participate in something different. Then we performed two dances at the band shell. It was such a pleasure to see Beata after so many years and her daughter who had been born after we had last met. Then she had two children and now she has four. Wow! In Guelph the place to reconnect is at the multicultural festival.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Guelph Multicultural Festival

The Multicultural festival is about eleven years old. I have been attending for many of those years, sending my chilldren on the rides and bouncy castles when they were little. Now they come sometimes and only to hang out with friends. For the very first time we have an Afroculture booth along with many other entrepreneurs at the Guelph Multicultural Festival. The festival has grown larger. It is still situated at the beautiful Riverside park. We will be performing on Sunday to fill a gap in the International Language Program's line up for centre stage . We will also be teaching workshops on Saturday and Sunday.

Today was set up time, and testing the scene and ourselves in our new role as merchandisers. We met others we know well in the business, and although for this weekend we are competitors we are also among friends and do indeed wish them well after wishing ourselves well first. Saikou from Toronto has set up a great display. Primordial Drums is directly opposite him. There's a Senegalese lady I met last year at the Afri festival of Waterloo. There are many firsts for us, erecting our booth and securing it at the end of the day. We trust it is secure! So many trips back and forth for this and that all because we're new at this. Wynne spent the entire afternoon there, until he was sick of it. I used up his Friday until very late so I rented him a movie for his entertainment.

I hope tomorrw goes well and we make lots of sales. I expect lots of traffic at our booth and excellent sales. Guelph is where we learn new things.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chinua Achebe-2007 Man Booker Prize winner

As children growing up on colonial fare, we were fed everything British. British was best and so I read Enid Blyton's mass media books from Amelia Jane to Brer Rabbit and all her mysteries and adventures, everything -almost. Then we discovered America's Nancy Drew at the Osu Children's library. As soon as we were old enough, we read Mills and Boon and Harlequin, hidden between text books during geography class. The boys discovered Nick Carter, the character, (I'm not sure who wrote those books)and together we discovered the block-buster books of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon and Alex Haley. When we thought of literature and fiction these were what we thought of, not the books our schools forced on us, The Day of the Triffids, Invisible Man, My family and Other Animals or Shakespeare's Macbeth or Julius Caesar.

All of a sudden from the middle of this sea of literary whiteness, we discovered that Africans actually wrote books, fiction which explored our lives, our cultures, pre colonial life and history. We were excited to taste the flavour of our vernaculars cleverly translated into the English language and yet retaining the taste of salt, pepper ginger and onions. Instantly we felt at home, as if we had read these all our lives. Our eyes opened, we could see into the life of Okwonkwo and by extrapolation the lives of our great grandfathers, when they had marked the land and cut down the forest to create homes and villages and towns. We began to understand what their hopes had been and why the whiteman had so awed them. We began to visualize the stresses of colonialism, the forced inferiority and the reasons why we were who we are. And not because we had read the clinical facts of history from which all black thought had been excluded. When we read of the Abolition, we never heard of Quobna Ottobah Cugoano nor of Olaudah Equiano. We never learned of William Still or Harriet Tubman or Toussaint d'Ouverture of Haiti. Abolition was Granville Sharp, William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, all heroes of England expressing the goodness of white. Thank God times are changing or we may never have heard of Nelson Mandela, only of the honourable F.W. de Klerk.

Where else could we discover the beauty of blackness if all we knew of ourselves was that we had performed human sacrifices, sold our brothers into slavery and been conquered, indentured, colonized, or if you like plundered against our will. As if these roles were singularly ours to enact on the theatre stage of our world. And even today when our stories are told, our voices, our art, our take on literature is often rejected by the big-boy publishers so that our stories gush out of western mouths, open wide to taste the bottom of grandmother's pepper-soup. Another Picasso waiting to be born. But every now and then, someone makes it to the top in spite of the odds. Someone wins a coveted prize. So we celebrate the elder novelist Chinua Achebe of Nigeria, (I say of Africa) and the open path he cut through the bush for many others to follow, like Ben Okri and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and those of us who are finding the path. It is Chinua Achebe who explains as none other, the real role of the storyteller of our times. He enacts it fully for all to see. While madness drives a man into the bush, the storyteller is coralled to the compound to serve it well. So we serve; so we serve.
“Agwu picks his disciple, rings his eye with white chalk and dips his tongue, willing or not, into the brew of prophecy; and right away the man will speak and put head and tail back to the severed trunk of our tale. " Anthills of the Savannah

When we were young and discovered Heinneman's African Writers Series, we strung titles together and learned this chant: Because of Burning Grass and The Narrow Path, the People of the City are No longer at Ease, so Weep not Child, when Things Fall Apart. So fully did we own African writing, the titles were like music to our ears. It is true what Chinua Achebe says: "It is the story that makes us different from the animals." Anthills of the Savannah

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mamady Keita

Fule and Mamady

Last Saturday, Fulé and Andrew took Mamady's workshop for the very first time in Toronto. Mamady did not know it but Fulé as a djembe drummer and director of Jiwani has learned almost everything he knows from Mamady Keita. Mamady Keita is the superstar of Malinke Djembe drumming! Yes, I know of several other names of equally skilled drummers such as Famoudou Konate, and we have enjoyed the drumming of Adama Drame on CD, and taken Mbemba Bangoura's workshop in drumming and dance. But none has done as much for Djembe drumming, or even hand drumming as Mamady with his skill, his vision, his deligence and his business sense. Mamady Keita is much bigger than his frame, having reached more people through his teaching CDs, his book, A life for the Djembe, which he co-authored and the dramatic documentary film of his life and his djembe, Djembefola. This man is a class act and Fulé and I periodically enjoy his performance DVD with his amazing group, Sewa Kan.

It isn't as though there are no master drummers in Ghana or other African countries. The Ghanaian drum scene has its own particular flavours and complexity of rhythm, from the Northern drum ensemble, favouring the dono and the brekete types, the Akan ensemble, the Ga ensemble and the Ewe ensemble with their myriad types of drums. Infact the depth of tone of these other kinds of drumming cultures and the fact that the lead drum is usually the bass drum, gives Ghanaian drumming a compelling awe and power unlike other drum cultures. Within the Malinke drum culture, solos are created with a tightly tuned lead djembe which delivers its high pitched soliloquys over top of rhythm-djembes and the bass complement of djun-djuns.

Whether one prefers one culture of drumming to another is entirely a matter of preference and culture. But it is undeniable that Mamady and those like him have taken the djembe culture to another level of prominence. While they have preserved the folkloric, they have gone far to improve showmanship and to create other drum songs, and new solos for older rhythms. While this prominence may be given to the versatility and portability of the djembe itself as an instrument and particularly as a solo drum instrument, we cannot deny the national vision that supported the Ballets Guineen and Ballets Djoliba and which projected them to international prominence with superior techniques of performance drumming and choreographic excellence. Today, because of Mamady Keita, all the world has heard of the Djembefola and even as far as Indonesia they make tone challenged djembes out of mango wood.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I wonder if any other cultures make dance music with religious themes of worship, thanksgiving and praise to God. Ghanaians make the most upbeat songs of praise in contemporary highlife and hiplife styles which lend themselves to dances at parties , gatherings, festivals and all kinds of get-togethers. We unabashedly join our voices to the compelling refrain of soulful voices extolling the virtues of God alongside the guitars, saxophones and high strung synthesizers while the drums pound a beat irresistible to dancing feet. We dance, we we stomp, we twist and turn merging our joy of community and worship into one, with laughter spilling unreservedly from mouth to ear, filling the spaces between conversations with ease, sweeping us all into healthy release. We look into each others eyes as we speak, shake hands with firmness and hug with warmth, seeking the exchange of good will.

All this at Joel's first birthday party, where the sauces and stews of the women's cooking fill us with desire for pepper and ginger and onions and salt, and the fermented corn rich dumplings of West Africa. The back door is open and the children careen in and out, playing hide and seek or catch. Sometimes they pause to breakdance to the admiration of uncles and aunties, clapping their hands and shouting: Go, go, go, Joshua! Our laughter mingles. We are one with the music, the praise, the joy, the food and with one another!

Shout out to Joel, Janet, Eddie, Joshua, Araba and Buadi!

Saturday, June 09, 2007


NUMBER 271 crosses the finsh line, HURRAY!

I am awakened with sleep hunger at 8 o'clock. I am still paralysed by some delayed action of sleep when I plead with Fule to call me from his cell in ten minutes, to make sure that I actually get out of bed. Faithfully, he calls. Maureen picks me up at 8:32. Actually we leave at about 8:45pm to York University in Toronto- east. There kids from at least 8 schools and several districts in Toronto are competing with themselves and against each other to finish a 5 kilometre race. This is a race they have been training for the whole school year in their Reading and Running Clubs, birthed by Canadian marathon star Silvia Ruegger and offered through Kids Fest Canada. This unique program is Silvia's response to the needs of inner city children in the elementary grades and supports them as an after hours school program, with goals which include success at reading, goal setting, team building, mentoring and fitness. Of course they are also watching out for the kids who show real promise at running to support them in the development of their talents.

I first met Silvia at Mosaic, a Christian prayer ministry run by ex-CFL star Brian Warren who is a pastor and the founder of KidsFest Canada. Then I heard Silvia at the Eden Mills Community Centre where she spoke about her Reading and Running School Clubs for boys and girls in a dynamic and insightful presentation, which included her own path as a marathon runner and a video clip showing her amazing eighth place finish in the very first women's Olympic marathon ever. Silvia is intense, passionate, a pace setter with a heart for the children. Her goal, to keep hope and possibilty alive in the eyes of the children. Her Canadian record, set at the Ottawa Marathon in 1984 at 2:30:37 is still unbroken, more than 20 years after. It was the very first marathon she run in competition.

This Saturday, the very air was static with excitement and anticipation. One could almost see sparks of electricity here and there as the kids were urged on to finish the race, with Brian's voice booming over the loud speakers while dozens of volunteers run here and there fixing everything up. There were loads of trophies, photo ops., freezies, bouncy castle-kind structures and a large white reading tent. In the tent I told West African stories to the kids, (this is the Afroculture connection) working hard to hold their attention against the smell of barbecued hamburgers, the anticipation of the mighty bounce in three or four castles set up not too far away, and a delightful tee-shirt decorating activity. The individual winners went home with great gifts, the Sony thing called Wii and several boom boxes. The event was supported by City of Toronto, Scholastic, Running Free Sport and Brooks among several others. Willow P.S. of Guelph won the team first place. Go Willow, Go Guelph. (I couldn't resist that.)

What a success!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Corporate Afroculture Workshop: Wellington County Child Care Services

Yesterday Wellington County Child Care Services celebrated the contributions of child home care service providers in the county to a sit down dinner in the beautiful banquet hall of the Italian Canadian Club of Guelph, 135 Ferguson Street.

AFROCULTURE arrived at 7:00pm to set up forty-five small djembes. We also dressed up the organizers, six of them including Laurie and Stacey in colorful African wax print and cowrie bead accessories. Then the fun began with Fule's trademark beginner workshop loaded with jokes and wise cracks to relax the participants and to aid them in their quest for rhythm. Kathleen ably supplied both the anchoring beat, the mother rhythm and the deep end of the rhythm on the djuns. The ladies had a blast and held their rhythm together amidst much laughter. I travelled the room on my backside, taking photos of the women playing drums, focussing, laughing. I told two African stories in appreciation of good service to the community, to the theme: one heart. Then I introduced the dance. We had them all sweating and thirsting and moving and at the end, by their own comments, they had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The dance drew ready laughter and broke barriers between the people. They loved the rhythm, the dance and the fact that they were involved and not just watching. I met my neighbour, Jennifer and Sally's friend Barbara. It's always nice to reconnect with people one knows. So if you're having a corporate event, try us at


Monday, June 04, 2007

Four Seasons

In my part of Africa, we only have two seasons, wet and dry. Our average temperature is 28 degrees, this is a conservative estimate! Inspite of this, I am thinking of calling the Afroculture recital Four Seasons, after all here in Canada we enjoy the changing of the seasons, even if winter is much too long.

I'm not sure if this theme will survive the week. If it does, I'll need four ideas to work through our show which will be performed by the children, teens and adults we teach in our dance and drumming classes. Our singing is tentative and I wish there was more I could do about that. It is probably an overstatement to say that we are overwhelmed by compliments for Spirit Alive. It is nice when one's work touches hearts. We continue to nurse our toes and dance. Come dance with us. Come to our Recital on June 23rd.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

African Performance Arts for youth

Today Stephanie, Marissa and Kadi performed at the GCDF Youth moves. All three are steady dancers: Stephanie pays attention to the execution of the choreography and is responsible for the others in this regard. Marissa is very natural as a dancer and full of improvisations and Kadi is more introspective and more subtle as a dancer. In their diverse ways they give a lot to each other in performance. After our second performance today, it was Kadi the more reluctant dancer who had an idea for the next choreography. She surprised me in this regard as sometimes I have wondered whether she likes the stage.

I really think that people of African descent have a penchant for the performing arts. Now I know that's a generalization but it is a good one and if more people are discovering that this is not so, it must be the westernization and urbanization which is overunning our world. This is not all bad because the western block-buster approach to everything: big stages, big films, celeb bands and superstars have woken up the world to know that it is possible even if hard to make a great living out of the arts. How important for those who are born with this gift of healing and community, or healing for the community. How great for the community.

As a child I began to learn the traditional dances of Africa at age eleven. I had ofcourse watched, heard and observed all this from early childhood but I must confess that my first memories of dance, were doing the twist to "My boy lolipop," when I imitated my older siblings. Then I remember trying the 'bugaloo' and the 'pop corn' all of which I learned from teen aged older siblings. By the time I was twelve my sister and I were winning dance competitions held at birthday parties because we had older siblings to learn all the cool moves from. Then at the end of elementary school my school introduced my graduating class to African dance. I fell at once and completely in love with it.

If one learned to dance then one wanted to be watched. One courted the eyes of the audience. This ofcourse gave birth to that love for performance, acknowledgement and praise. No wonder in the courts of the traditional rulers and at all community functions, people from very young to very old want to strut their stuff to the praise of the community. In West Africa, performance results in much applause and the spraying of money: coins and notes placed on the forehead of the dancer, drummer, poet or singer. In my parents day, English colonial mentality prohibited all the school goers who were pursuing education from joining in the community arts of dance, song, and drumming. They missed out on their rich cultural heritage. Until today my Mom envies those who can articulate the graceul dance of the Akans, (the adowa) at funerals and festivals. She can only pretend to dance it.

In Africa the arts are functional: binding , motivating and healing to the community. The arts are also participatory with a place for everyone. Voice, expression as well as release is available to everyone in very accessible spaces.
My argument: Why not use the traditonal arts and its more contemporary and emerging forms to engage youth, to give voice, expression, healing and belonging to a whole new generation.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Dedicated to Africa

photo by Randy Sutherland
Our second time at GCDF, but this time I have little to say as I didn't get to watch the other acts at either the Site Specific series of the Youth Moves. So I rushed around all morning between venues for tech rehearsals and the show, as both Jiwani and my kiddie trio: Steph, Kadi and Marissa were performing.

I was pleased with Spirit Alive and I have plans to make it even more dynamic. Kwame Badoe's music was emotive, passionate and stirring. I was glad for the opportunity to criss cross media, beginning with prerecorded voice (poetry) over instrumental music, rooted in recorded djembe and djun sound then layering over top with live djembe ensemble and the "rechauffer" with robust live drumming. It made for a dynamic soundscape, an interesting development of the concept of the lone prayer rising up and being buffered and supported until the the Spirit is reborn and sustained by the entire community.

Spirit Alive was born as an idea in my mind and as my co-artists lent their support to it, the music was composed and the dance developed in the womb of my regular dance class and then alllowed to grow in the dance-drum troupe Jiwani wherein it was choreographed , practised and critiqued. Spirit Alive is dedicated to Africa.