African dance enlivens campus centerPublished: April 29, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.
With alien-like creatures littering the lawn of the Great Lawn, one can only imagine what is lurking inside. Thursday night, alongside intricate paintings, moving photos and a rainbow squiggly snake, the beat of the heartbeat of southern Ghana radiated through the Shapiro Campus Center atrium.
It was here that the students of the class Ghana Drumming and Dancing (MUS87)—myself included—performed traditional instrumental music and dance from the Ewe people of West Africa, led by our handsome and effervescent professor, Nani Agbeli (MUS).
We voted on naming our troupe Fafali, which translates to “there is peace,” as we felt a cross-cultural experience of peace while spending the semester learning about the Ewe people’s traditions and arts. Nani himself has frequently mentioned that learning and sharing one another’s culture promotes peace as well. Most of the students in the class are not music majors and took up the class as a new experience. Today we find ourselves proficient in some of the dancing and drumming techniques we learned.
We each had integral roles in the music, as each instrument carries a set of beats for the leading drum and bell’s tune, and it was apparent that the semester-long practice session had paid off. We next sang a traditional song of peace while forming a circle. Once in the circle, Nani pounded a large drum with specific beats to lead the dancers into a variety of hip-swaying, butt-slapping, feet-stomping moves. At many points, we partnered off and engaged each other in core movements that embodied each beat of the drum.
Nani Agbeli comes from a long family line of drumming and dancing, as he received much of his training from his father Godwin Agbeli who was the chairman of the National Folkloric Company at the Arts Council of Ghana. He has been a drum and dancing instructor at the Dagbe Cultural Center in Kopeyia, Ghana, as well as schools all over such as Berklee College of Music, Tufts University and, the most fortunate school, Brandeis!
After we performed, Nani and two special guests, including artist Frederick Abban, aggressivly portrayed a war story through dances and chanting. At one point, Nani jumped onto an audience member’s lap and gently carressed her face. If nothing else, it was an experience worth having.
Following the performances a reception was held with light delicious snacks as the students celebrated a fun and culturally invigorating semester. If anyone is interested in taking this class next semester, we were fortunate enough to have it funded for another year and it will be offered in the fall!
All of the students are especially grateful for the support of Judy Eissenberg, Nani Agbeli and the Brandeis Music Department for having this class offered and are surely walking away with an experience to remember.