North Texas Daily

Festival spotlights percussion professor, music and dance

Festival spotlights percussion professor, music and dance

Festival spotlights percussion professor, music and dance
April 08
23:13 2015

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

Bringing West African culture to UNT, percussion professor Gideon Foli Alorwoyie’s annual African Cultural Festival celebrates the traditional music, dance and song that has its roots in countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea and Senegal.

This year on April 11 at Voertman Hall, the event that began 18 years ago will welcome the royal chief of the Ashanti region of Ghana and the chief elder of the Asanteman Association of Dallas-Fort Worth, among other guest artists from around the world.


Gideon Alorwoyie

“My aim was to let all these people know what Africa is about because some of them don’t have money to travel to Africa to see those things,” said Alorwoyie, who founded and organized the festival. “Over here, at least they will see different cultures through different dancers, different musicians and different instruments.”

Students from the UNT Percussion Ensemble and Alorwoyie’s music and movement classes will perform alongside London’s Adzido Dance Company founder George Kwame Dzikunu and former principal dancer of Ghana’s national dance company Wisdom Kobla Agbedanu.

The event is titled “The Africans are Coming” – fitting for a festival intending to expand its reach from one region in Africa to the entire continent.

“The festival enriches our cultural diversity here on campus and gives our students and university community an opportunity to hear and witness African cultural music,” coordinator of percussion Mark Ford said.

Composer and drummer

Born in Anlo-Afiadenyigba in the Volta region of Ghana, Alorwoyie was raised in a city where percussion played a crucial role in society.

The drum, considered one of the initial methods of communication between villagers, helped get messages across through rhythms and sounds.

“When I was very young, I knew I was born a composer and a drummer,” Alorwoyie said.

His ambition was put to the test when his uncle, a drummer, invited him to play the drums at the annual Anlo-traditional cultural festival.

“When he said it, I thought he was just pulling my leg,” Alorwoyie said. “But on the way to the festival, it became more serious. I thought, ‘My uncle isn’t teasing me now.’”

After playing in front of the crowd, which was rare for African adolescents in the early 1960s, Alorwoyie was approached by Phillip Gbeho, the then-director of the Institute of Arts and Culture in Ghana at Hogbetsotso. In 1964, he was offered a position as assistant drummer and dance coach at the institute.

Since he was discovered, Alorwoyie became the chief master drummer of the Ghana National Dance Ensemble, toured the world from China to Switzerland and founded the Afrikania Cultural Troupe of Ghana.

In 1996, Alorwoyie accepted an offer from UNT’s College of Music to join the faculty, propelling the percussion program to national recognition as the artistic director of the UNT African Percussion Ensemble.

Apart from being a performer, Alorwoyie is also high priest of the Yewe Cult and was named paramount chief at Tsiyinu-Afegame/Afife, also in the Volta region of Ghana, in 2004. His involvement in his home country can be seen through his daily attire at the university – an embroidered dashiki suit straight from West Africa.

“I’m very traditional. You’ll never see mein a tie,” Alorwoyie said. “You’ll always see me in African dress so you can identify me.”

A family in music and dance

A year after Alorwoyie began his role as a music professor, he established the African Cultural Festival to recreate the events he grew up with in Ghana while adding elements from Afro-Cuban and Southern Indian cultures.

dAs it continued to increase in popularity and size, Alorwoyie turned it into an event where students could experience the West African heritage while educating the general public about the continent, particularly during Great Global CitizensMonth in April.

“This is something that has to be taken more seriously as an open door for international diversity among the students and the community at large,” Alorwoyie said. “It’s more than African. This is a world program.”9_gideon_web3

Mayor Chris Watts honors Alorwoyie during a city council meeting. Alorwoyie played at the meeting for the African Culture Festival.

Theresia Munywoki, a UNT alumnus and post-graduate of linguistics, is one of about two-dozen dancers who perform at the festival.

Although she now studies naturopathic and oriental medicine at North Central Texas College, Munywoki comes back every year to celebrate the event with Alorwoyie and the percussion ensemble.

“I love that we just get to dance to this music that you never really hear anywhere else,” Munywoki said. “There are lots of African ances that’s made [their] way to the United States, but this style is something that I’ve only ever seen here with Gideon.”

For his performance, Alorwoyie will act as the main drummer, passing along a rhythmical message to the drummers who then convey the message to the dancers.

“That is what we call a drum as a dance, as a language,” Alorwoyie said. “Those types of the things are the elements of what I want the audience to figure out, not what I want to tell them.”

Munywoki, who will also sing during the festival, met Alorwoyie in 2001 when she took his music and movement class. Because her parents were from Kenya, Munywoki said she was somewhat familiar with the African way of dancing and singing.

While Munywoki has plans to leave Denton, shesaid she wants to remain close with Alorwoyie, who has become a mentor to her.

“It basically becomes a familial experience, so it’s just really great to be in an environment like that,” Munywoki said.

This sentiment was echoed by Alorwoyie.

“In my group, they are all brothers and sisters, and I am their father,” Alorwoyie said. “It’s a family.”

The festival is part of the 2014-2015 Mary Jo and V. Lane Rawlins Fine Arts Series. It begins 8 p.m. in Voertman Hall, and general admission is $10.

Featured Image: Gideon Alorwoyie and students from his percussion class perform at a city council meeting Tuesday night. Photos and Video by – Byron Thompson – Senior Staff Photographer

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