Video: Sankofa — Vanderbilt University African Drumming and Dance Ensemble

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SANKOFA, the Blair School of Music’s African Performing Ensemble, present”A semester in Africa,” with Kwame Ahima and Dr. Gregory Barz, co-instructors, and Eric Tsatsu, Dance instructor.

“Knocking” invocation of the gods and ancestors is a long-standing tradition of African people. On grand occasions such as “A semester in Africa,” the gods of the land and spirits of the deceased, elders of the community, patrons, composers, drummers and dancers are invited to come and witness, and most of all, bless the forthcoming event or performance; but not before they seek guidance from the creator of all things. This performance uses the first part of the opening dance “Yewe” to convey such message.

Yewe is the God of thunder and lightening among the Ewe speaking people of Ghana, Togo and Benin. Yewe is a very exclusive cult, and its music is one of the most developed forms of sacred music in Eweland. Yewe typically has five part movements. Because of its religious significance, three movements are usually performed to the general public: Whusago, Sowu and Afowu.

Drums: Atsimewhu (long drum), Sogo, Kidi, Kaganu, Gankogui, Axatse

Tora: A ceremonial dance performed by queens and princesses of Dagbon in northern Ghana.


Section One
Samuel Adkisson, Sophia Arriaga, Cynthia Bien, Katherine Dixon, Nicholas Evans, Melody Gooden, Matthew Hevey, Jessica Jackson, Natalie King, Masita Mohamad Micah O’Hare, Laura Scharmer Dana Smiles, Shane Stever

Section Two
Shimere Ballou, Brittney Barlow, Andrew Boyd, Robert Gambrel Elizabeth Goldblatt, Norhisyam Je

Gankogui Medley: This composition includes several rhythms that may make African music seem incomprehensible to some, but in fact are quite accessible to Vandy students! The student members of the ensemble approach the music on its own terms and demonstrate a unique technique to achieve this very complex polyrhythmic composition.

Instruments: Gankogui, Atoke (bells), Axatse,

Gahu: A popular dance of the Ewes of Ghana, it is a very colorful dance, which has traveled all the way from Nigeria to Ghana. It is a combination of the popular Ewe rhythm Kinka, and Yuroba dance rhythms. This delightful dance is very flexible and stylish.

Instruments: Atsimevu (long drum), Sogo, Kidi, Kaganu, Krobodzi, Gankogui, Axatse, Boba

Sankofa is the Blair School of Music’s African Performing Ensemble. The ensemble was funded through the Provost’s initiative for cultural diversity in the curriculum at Vanderbilt University in 2000. All members in the ensemble receive academic credit by registering for MUSE171. The ensemble will continue to offer instruction in African music and dance every semester.

An Akan term, Sankofa means “return and retrieve,” that is one must return to the past, to one’s roots, in order to move forward. Sankofa is typically represented by a bird whose head faces the opposite direction of its body, that is looking toward the future while being firmly rooted in the past.

This course provides a laboratory and performance experience drawing on traditional African musical instruments with an emphasis on West African (Ghana) music and dance repertories. The music instruments that support this leaning experience principally include drums and other assorted percussion instruments. The course structure includes both lecture-demonstrations and rehearsal in one intensive two-hour sessions each week.

Director Kwame Ahima is adjunct professor of music at Blair School of Music, and has been directing Blair’s African Performing ensemble at Vanderbilt University for several years and is well respected for his abilities to teach university students basic facets of African Performing culture. He is also the founder as well as master drummer of Sogo Dance Ensemble based in Nashville, and has taught and performed extensively around the world.

Contact: Cindy Steine