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Agbekor Drum and Dance Society (ADDS) Shares African Traditions

Performing @ Brandeis University, 2011
Performing @ Brandeis University, 2011Lisa Leake

Agbekor Drum and Dance Society (http://www.agbekorsociety.org/) “ADDS” began in 1979 as a project to study and perform repertory from Africa. Currently, it has two sections - one specializing in Ewe music and dance, the other in Dagomba music; this performance will focus on Ewe traditions. The homeland of the Ewe people is along the Atlantic Coast of western Africa in the nation states of Ghana and Togo. In Ewe drumming, each instrument has a specific rhythm that it repeats over and over, with the lead drum sending musical signals that cue dancers when to do their different variations. In both Ewe and Dagomba traditions, each item of repertory has its unique purpose, meaning, history, and performance personality.

In David Locke’s vision as Founder and Artistic Director, performers in the Agbekor Society do their best to accurately reenact singing, drumming, and dancing that was created in Africa. But we make no pretense to be other than who we are, nor is the audience asked to suspend its disbelief and treat us as if we are Africans. Nevertheless, through an African discipline of body and mind, we venture beyond American culture. Performances might be taken as experiments toward a new inter-cultural “space.”

In their frequent collaborations with Ghanaian master drummers including the late Godwin Agbeli and Alhaji Abubakari Lunna, Torgbui Gideon Foli Alorwoyie and Nani Agbeli, the Agbekor Society continues to renew its connection with its African sources. The Society has appeared in clubs, concerts, lecture-demonstrations and festivals throughout New England.

One key piece that is continously performed for auidences around New England, such as “Agbekor” is a style of dance by the West African peoples of Ewe and Foh. It is an ancient dance once known as Atamga, Ga meaning 'great', Atam meaning 'oath'. It is now performed by the people of Dzogadze, a farming community near Akatsi in the Southern part of the Volta Region of Ghana. It is characterized by multiple percussion instruments that engage in highly polyrhythmic interactions. Today it is used for cultural presentations, but in the past it was an actual war dance, and the oath in question was an oath taken by the ancestors before going into battle. The lead drummer 'calls' the dancers to perform a specific movement, preceded and followed by "the call to turn." There is a slow section and a fast section, with 'interlude songs' or "hatsiatsia" songs" sometimes performed in between. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzidynQgyMk; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyyJThq-Iuc

David Locke, Founder of ADDS, is Associate Professor of Music at Tufts University, teaching ethnomusicology and African music, and African dance for several decades. He did his graduate studies in ethnomusicology at Wesleyan University under David McAllester, one of the founders of the field. J.H.K. Nketia, the best-known African music scholar, supervised his fieldwork in Ghana (1975-1977). His main teachers of African music and dance are Abraham Adzinyah, Freeman Donkor, Godwin Agbeli and Abubakari Lunna. He has written three books and numerous scholarly articles, and the Africa chapter in Worlds of Music, a world music textbook. He has created a website for Dagomba dance-drumming (http://dagomba.uit.tufts.edu).

Nani Kwashi Agbeli, Artistic Director of ADDS, is a native of the Ewe from the Volta Region of Ghana, W. Africa. He received his drum and dance training from his father, Godwin K. Agbeli, who was the chairman of the National Folkloric Company at the Arts Council of Ghana. Nani performed with and led the cultural group Sankofa Root II in Ghana where they received many awards. He has been a drum and dance instructor at the Dagbe Cultural Center in Kopeyia, Ghana for nine years. Nani is on the faculty of the Music Department at Tufts University, where he teaches performance ensemble courses in traditional Ghanaian music and dance. He also is teaching at Brandeis University and in the Five College System. For more information, please visit http://www.woezo.com.

Other Members of ADDS are: Doug Berman, Lauren Caso, Abbie Chambers, Chartise Clark, Faith Conant, Mercy Cover, Jenn Dennett, Julie DiOrio, Anthony Douglass, Lauren Falabella, Ian Gendreau, Leigh Kelter, Kevin Koteles, Jerry Leake, Lisa Leake, Tom Macdonald, Jennelle Marchand, Maura McGillicuddy, Ben Paulding, Renee Orser, Rafi Singer, Allison Stamiris, Alicia Stevenson, Warren Senders, Vijaya Sundaram, Michael Traub.

The group hopes to continue spreading Ghanian and West African traditions for another 25 years, and hope you might catch one of our shows! Keep a look out, or just listen for the beat of the toto ji, kagan, sogo, kiti, or Atsimivu.

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