Fafali showcases Ghanaian drumming and dancing
A beat from a single drum, an atsimevu, preceded an onslaught of rhythm from the students of Brandeis’s Ghanaian drum and dance ensemble in Friday night’s biannual “Fafali: Music and Dance from Ghana.” The class showcased the Ghanaian dance-drumming they learned this past semester in a spirited night of drumming, dancing and singing. The concert in the Slosberg Recital Hall also featured the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society and the Brandeis Spirit Band.
Directed by Prof. Ben Paulding (MUS), Fafali is an experiential learning course that focuses on the music, song and dance of the Ewe people of southeastern Ghana. Having lived in Kumasi, Ghana and drummed for national audiences with groups such as Ashanti King’s Fontomfrom Ensemble, Nsuase Kete Group and the Centre for National Culture, Paulding has extensive experience with Fafali. He also currently serves as the Drum Leader for the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society.
Supported by drummers from the ADDS, the class opened with a piece of the Kinka genre, a social genre of dance drumming from the Southern Ewe people of the Volta region. The focus in this piece was placed purely on the complex rhythms produced by several types of drums, bells, also known as gankogui, and rattles, also known as axatse.
The class transitioned to the Agbekor genre for the second piece, which saw the addition of dancing and singing. Felicia Sandler, who teaches Mile Norvisi, a class on West African Music at the New England Conservatory of Music, Laura Parks and Richard Preston sang while ADDS drummers also supported the Fafali students. Paulding introduced the piece by explaining that Agbekor is traditionally a war dance from the Volta region and that its oral history is enacted through drumming, dancing and singing.
The piece started slowly with the beat of one drummer and quickly gained momentum as a succession of drummers joined in and the singers began their powerful chanting. The dancers entered from off-stage after the music was underway and used a medley of synchronized sweeping side-to-side movements, rigid hand and body motions and jumps. The dance had a mix of smooth and jerky elements in it but maintained an overall flow that kept in time with the music. According to the program, the dance movements were supposed to serve as reenactments of battlefield scenes and present elements such as shooting, hiding, clearing grass to set up camp and listening to spiritual advice from ancestors.
The Brandeis Spirit Band along with Fafali students, performed a unique piece that blended the sounds of Fafali with those of a brass band. Ken Fields, the director of the Brandeis Spirit band, was absent for the performance. Fafali students played traditional Kinka rhythms on Ewe drums while the Spirit band, decked out in capes, played traditional Ewe melodies on brass instruments typically unfamiliar to Fafali.
ADDS’s solo performance was of the Sikyi genre, a recreational dance-drumming genre from the Akan people of south-central Ghana. Attah Poku, the artistic director of ADDS, is from the Ashanti Region of Ghana, joined the Ashanti king’s drum ensemble when he was ten and has performed with several other renowned groups all across Africa. Currently, he also directs the Kiniwe African Music and Dance Ensemble at Tufts University. ADDS’s dance featured two pairs of couples who were dancing in flirty ways. The dance had a cheerful and lighthearted air to it, and their interaction was intimate yet fun. The singers sang in a call-and-response form. Although it was not actually the audience who responded, this singing strengthened the connection felt to the dance by all.
At the end of the concert, Paulding invited the audience to the stage to learn how to play. Fafali students demonstrated a particular instrument and explained the significance behind a particular rhythm. The concert served as a small glimpse into the world of traditional African dance and music.