Kate Koenig, Arts Editor
Artist-in-Residence Godwin Abotsi from Ghana has been working in the SUNY Oneonta Music Department for the semester, teaching West African rhythm and dance to a group of students that make up the World Percussion and Dance Ensemble. This past Monday, the semester’s efforts culminated in the “West African Drum and Dance Showcase,” held in the Hunt Union Ballroom in a 3-hour celebration of West African music, dance and cuisine.
The evening opened with a 20-minute performance by the World Percussion and Dance Ensemble of a song entitled “Waka,” a Ghanaian welcoming song. Abotsi and Dr. Julie Licata (who together were responsible for preparing the event) led the students of the ensemble as they gathered on stage wearing an array of bright solid colors. Abotsi sang and played an African drum while Licata played a curved xylophone type of instrument as the students kept rhythm through clapping and sang in response to Abotsi’s lead.
Though the night was centered around the work of the Percussion and Dance Ensemble, several other performers were featured in the event. Second to take the stage were Ken Sider’s third grade class from Riverside School, who sat in a semi-circle that stretched across the stage, performing with Abotsi playing African drums and percussive instruments. Sider is also a professor here at Oneonta, and teaches the class “Diversity in Education” in the Education Department. Before going on stage, the third graders walked through the audience handing out leaflets on the striped hyena, which they are working on saving from becoming extinct.
Abotsi, who has been working with the World Percussion and Dance Ensemble since February, is originally from Ghana and was invited to come and teach at Oneonta due to the success of the Ghana internship program. He specializes in West African rhythm and dance and has gone to Austria, Germany, Australia and Korea to pursue and share his art. Together with Dr. Licata, he has trained students of both musical and non-musical backgrounds in dance and African percussion.
The Percussion and Dance Ensemble performed four times in total, each time coming out to perform one distinct song. In their second performance, which featured the traditional Ghanaian dance “Solma,” the students surprised the audience by having a call and response between the drummers and the dancers, with the dancers hidden behind the stage curtain. Suddenly, the dancers emerged from behind the curtain wearing grass skirts, anklets and arm bands, arms around each other’s shoulders and dancing, stomping and singing in formation. This happened in similar fashion for their other performances, which included the dance “Gahu,” and their finale, “Gota.” In their final performance, the dancers ran into the audience and encouraged audience members to get up and participate, before then pulling several people onto the stage in what became an extended session of singing and dance before the close of the evening.
Other highlights of the evening included poetry reciting by slam poets Mary Anne Rojas, Vanessa Perillo and Simone Ocampo (who is also a member of the Dance Ensemble), Prissly Mena with a video presentation of her experience in Ghana, a tap dancing duo and synchronized dancing by the Frequency Step Team. Ghanaian food was served at the event, including Indomie noodles made with vegetables, egg and sardines, Jollof rice made with chicken, stewed tomatoes and vegetables, and fried plantain chips. African jewelry, handbags and circular tapestries made from recycled cloth were also sold outside of the Ballroom, with proceeds going to the Ugandan Water Project and other charity organizations in Ghana.