Gye Nyame Ensemble
Master Drumming & Dancing from Ghana
The Lincoln Theatre
Mount Vernon, Washington
May 30, 2008
Gye Nyame Ensemble ignited its first set with "Bambaya." Perhaps an explosion of drums or carnival experience could best describe the powerful polyrhythms unleashed from Gye Nyame Ensemble’s drums. Certainly adjectives such as colorful, vibrant, electric and dance-inducing would hit the mark for the Ghanaian drummers and dancers’ performance. When these performers took over the Lincoln theatre stage with their thunderous beats, and spectacular West African dancing, the assembled audience enjoyed a rare treat for this region of Washington State, which unlike Seattle does not boast a large West African immigrant population or world music community. Not yet, anyway.Led by Ghanaian master drummer and flutist Saeed Abbas, his "brother" musicians, including Whidbey Island-based American Wade Wilcox, some long-time Ghanaian friends and some new arrivals, the ensemble seemed as tight as a veteran drum ensemble that had been playing together for years. The dance, part acrobatic, and part fluid ripple-of-muscles-in-action, certainly felt primal, even shamanic. The dancers, Peoper (who goes by his English name Eric) and Awal-Alhassan would at times bring audience members up on to the stage.
Since these audience members could actually dance African-style, it would be my guess that they were friends of the band, or in the case of the child who was brought up to the stage, a participant in the school workshop that the musicians had given earlier. These types of concerts work best with audience participation, especially since the musicians hail from West Africa where in their respective countries would involve lots of audience participation even late into the evening or the wee hours of the morning.
The ensemble performed two sets of songs from Abbas’ new CD, "Kowanaso" (loved by all), both with educational interludes. We learned about the box drum with the built in thumb piano and then witnessed a gorgeous demonstration of the instrument. In a similar fashion we were also introduced to the simple and small Ghanaian flute, which in a master musician’s care can unleash the most spectacular music one could wish to hear. And we were introduced to the Ghanaian talking drum, which I was later told is not the same as the one from Mali or other West African countries. Again, magic can be performed on the drum, which Abbas nicknamed, "the Ghanaian cell phone." He then performed a piece on the drum called appropriate enough, "Talking Drum."
The ensemble closed with a celebratory drum and chant piece, "Kpanlogo," that caused my feet to ache with the desire to dance (if only I was uninhibited). By that time, I felt as antsy as the children in the audience who did go up front and dance. Delicious rhythms that still remain nameless to me and the vibrant culture still awaiting my discovery, I am sure that I will explore Ghanaian traditional music further in the future. And more so, my appetite for West African culture and music has also been fueled for future exploration. In the end, I left the concert with my hunger for West African culture satisfied. I hope this ensemble returns soon. I believe Skagit Valley is ripe for the picking.
Partial list of ensemble drummers & dancers:
Saeed Abbas (drums & flute)
Mashud Neindow (drums)
Yaw Ampousah (drums)
Wade Wilcox (drums)
Peoper (dance & drums)
Awal-Alhassan (dance & drums)
For information about Gye Nyame Ensemble, recordings, and upcoming events, go to saeedabbas.com
Patricia Herlevi host the healing music blog, The Whole Music Experience and the radio show, Global Heartthrob (ksvr.org).