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21st African Cultural Festival keeps traditional ethnic music alive

21st African Cultural Festival keeps traditional ethnic music alive

The African Percussion Ensemble and Afrikania Cultural Troupe perform “Kpanlogo” at the 21st Annual African Cultural Festival.

21st African Cultural Festival keeps traditional ethnic music alive
April 16
23:28 2018

For one night, Ghana, Cuba, Colombia and India came together at UNT.

The heavy sounds of drums echoed off the walls of Voertman Hall as dancers stomped their feet, clapped and swung around in circles, flashing colors of ocean blue and orange.

This year marked the 21st annual African Cultural Festival, a day for celebrating African, Afro-Cuban and Indian cultures through song and dance. UNT percussion professor Gideon Foli Alorwoyie led the charge on the festival once again, bringing a diverse set of performers from local, national and international areas.

“It’s just about showing the people who don’t have the chance to go to Ghana, Cuba or all these places and invite [them] here to come and show the the different kinds of music and dances we do from that area,” Alorwoyie said.

Groups included the Afrikania Cultural Troupe, the UNT African Percussion Ensemble and the North Indian Classical Tabla Presentation, all of which brought its own cultural dances and music for the audience.

The African Percussion Ensemble and Afrikania Cultural Troupe perform at the 21st Annual African Cultural Festival. Rachel Walters

The performances lasted from 8 p.m. through midnight, and ranged from African dancing and singing to North Indian, South Indian and Afro-Cuban ensembles, a collaboration that Alorwoyie said was key to the whole concept of the festival.

“When I’m doing this type of thing, [it is in] terms of musical interactions,” Alorwoyie said. “This is what we tend to do. The whole idea is about having peace in the world with music and the same certain rhythms [that works] like medicine does to the body. That is more important than my technical performances.”

There was no sad music to be heard anywhere throughout the festival, as it was instead replaced with big numbers of upbeat dances, cowbells and shouting that kept the crowd cheering.

“They do more than aerobic exercise,” Alorwoyie said. “What they do is 10 times more because of the energy in the dancing and their movements.”

Those in the audience, some of whom came dressed in traditional clothing, said they were drawn to that energy.

“The way [the performer] did it, he was telling a story,” Sanger resident James Powe said. “That’s what got my attention. The talent really draws [you] to it and keeps your attention. The energy that they put into it is just unbelievable.”

Although the festival has been going on for 21 years, Alorwoyie said every performance is different in its own way. Different students, groups and musical acts are invited to UNT to expose viewers to a wide range of cultures.

Alorwoyie’s special guest this year was longtime colleague David Locke, who recently co-authored a book with him entitled, “Agbadza: The History and Music of an Ewe War Drum.”

“I have different artists, different students, different kinds,” Alorwoyie said. “I brought the co-author of my book who is also a professor at [Tufts] University. We have [known each other] for more than 40 years working together. This is his first time here, so that’s definitely something different.”

Member of the African Percussion Ensemble and Afrikania Cultural Troupe dance with audience members at the end of the 21st Annual African Cultural Festival. Rachel Walters

Alorwoyie joined the College of Music faculty in 1996 and has been leader in keeping Africa’s traditional music and culture alive ever since. Currently, he holds the position of being the only tenured African drummer at an American university.

Memunatu Alorwoyie, Alorwoyie’s wife and former principal dancer of the Ghana Dance Ensemble, said she has seen his work grow throughout the years.

“I’ve seen it all from beginning to end,” Memunatu said. “We want to show our culture. Some people don’t see our culture, and I’m excited to see people coming to see what we were doing it, and they love it.”

Memunatu was a central figure in the dancing performances and said she enjoys taking the stage every year.

“I’ve been dancing since I was 3 years old and I’ll be 45 on the 16th,” Memunatu said. “I’ve grown up with dancing with my tribe, so we started dancing when we were little so I’m used to it. I love it — doing it, teaching it.”

Belinda Anang, who is a former student and Alorwoyie’s niece, said this year was her third time performing. Anang is one of many who come back to be a part of the festival.

College of music professor and director of the African Percussion Ensemble, Gideon Alorwoyie performs during the 21st Annual African Cultural Festival. Alorwoyie joined the college of music in 1996 and is originally from Anlo-Afiadenyigba in the Volta region of Ghana, West Africa. Rachel Walters

“I’m from Ghana, and we just like moving,” Anang said. “It was really organized, the students were great and the professionals were amazing.”

Toward the end of the performance, performers stepped down into the aisles and brought out members of the audience to dance with them. It seemed to encompass the spirit of the festival and Alorwoyie’s vision of music’s ability to bring everyone together.

“It makes a lot people get to know a lot of different cultures,” Anang said. “The students don’t really know a lot of the cultures and our dance can teach you a lot. It speaks to you.”

Featured Image: The African Percussion Ensemble and Afrikania Cultural Troupe perform “Kpanlogo” at the 21st Annual African Cultural Festival on Saturday, April 14. Rachel Walters

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Amy Roh

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