West African Drum and Dance Ensemble Concert Nov. 3

By 
Margot Edwards
October 15, 2008
Berklee West African Drum and Dance Ensemble
Photo provided by the artist

The Berklee West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, under the direction of Joe Galeota, associate professor of percussion, presents Ghana: A Music Landscape, at the Berklee Performance Center on Monday, November 3, at 8:15 p.m. The group collaborates with top Ghanaian performers and special guests Bernard Woma, master of the gyil (African xylophone); and renowned dancer Nani Agbeli, to highlight the traditional music that is vibrant among Ghana's 79-plus language and cultural groups, from the sub-Saharan caravan routes sweeping the Savannah, to the thick Ashanti forests.

The Berklee Performance Center is located at136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston, Massachusetts. Tickets are $10 ($5 for seniors) and are available at the Performance Center Box Office. Visit berkleebpc.com or call 617 747-2261 for more information. 

The 15-member West African Drum and Dance Ensemble is comprised of a diverse group of students with a common love of African music, dance, and culture. Director Galeota has led an exchange program in Ghana for the past 11 years where students have stayed in villages and learned traditional drum and dance from local masters. They have had the opportunity to study under Woma at the Dagara Arts and Music Center, and with Agbeli at the Dagbe Cultural Center. Says Galeota, "Nani and Bernard are like part of our family. We've been grateful to have learned from them and we're further developing that relationship by bringing them here since they both now live in this country."

The West African Drum and Dance Ensemble travels with Galeota the next day to Austin, Texas, where they will be featured at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention's (PASIC) "Focus Day" evening concert, November 5, at the Austin Convention Center. This is the first time a Berklee student group is performing at the four-day convention of percussion students, teachers, and performers. PASIC is the largest percussion event in the world, featuring more than 150 concerts, clinics, master classes, labs, workshops, panels, and presentations. The Berklee group will highlight Focus Day's theme, "Out of Africa: Exploring African influence in contemporary percussion music," by presenting music from the 10 regions of Ghana for an expected audience of 2,000 people.

Bernard Woma is a true cultural treasure from Ghana who has toured the world as xylophonist and lead drummer of the National Dance Company of Ghana. He is an extremely dynamic artist and deeply experienced educator.  Woma's recent appearances in the U.S. include a residency with the Ethos Percussion Group and performances and teaching at New York's African Xylophone Festival. His composition "Gyil Nyog Me Na" was performed at Zankel Hall in Carnegie Hall in the spring of 2006. Woma is the founder and director of the Dagara Music and Arts Center in Accra, Ghana, and is currently adjunct percussion faculty and director of the SUNY Fredonia African Drumming Ensemble.

Nani Kwashi Agbeli is a native of Ghana's Volta region.  He received dance and drum training from his father Godwin K. Agbeli, who was appointed by the Ghanaian government to lead the Arts Council of Ghana National Folkloric Company. Agbeli also studied with artists at the National Arts Center in Accra and has performed with, and led the award-winning cultural group Sankofa Root II in Ghana. For nine years, he has been the lead dance teacher and drummer at the Dagbe Cultural Center in Kopeyia, Ghana, which has hosted students from Berklee, Tufts, and Bowling Green University. Agbeli is currently a dance instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Joe Galeota, a Berklee alumnus and associate professor of percussion, is also adjunct faculty at Tufts University. He pursued a master's degree at the University of Ghana in 1979, and since then has traveled there annually to study traditional Ghanaian music with masters such as Godwin Agbeli, Emmanuel Agbeli, Midawo Alorwe, and Bernard Woma. In 1984, Galeota founded JAG Drums, a company that manufactures professional West African percussion instruments. JAG has become the industry standard for many West African drums. Galeota has been a performer and educator since 1972, and has taught numerous workshops, clinics, and residencies. Along with teaching and performing, he continues to study in West Africa, taking students abroad yearly.