African Heritage Ensemble
DANCE ORIGINS: Ghana and Benin
GENRE: Traditional (Fon and Ewe)
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR: Kwesi Anku
First Appearance in SF EDF: 2011
African Heritage Ensemble was formed in 2009 by young professional musicians and dancers who migrated from Ghana to the Bay Area. The group preserves and researches West African dancing and drumming through performance and education. It adapts traditional West African dance for stage performance, and creates unique choreography fusing traditional and modern movements.
TITLE: Adzohu: Dahomeyan Dance Suite
CHOREOGRAPHER: CK Ladzekpo
DANCERS: Kwesi Anku, Mawuli Ladzekpo, Kwaku Oppong Manu, Myisha McClennon, Nancy McClymmond, Selasi Morgan
MUSICIANS: Kokou Soglo Katamani (sogo), Gameli Ladzekpo (axatse), Godwin Gameli Ladzekpo (kidi), Sammuel Elikem Nyamuame (atsimevu), Ken Riechl (gankogui), David Williams (kagan)
Adzohu–Dahomeyan Dance Suite, is a stage presentation of West African sacred dance. Adzohu drum-language tells the story: Vinowo mi shi vi djo. . . Parents protect your children. There is danger in ambush for us!
In Fon and Ewe communities in Benin and southeast Ghana, young men learn this dance in devotion to Adzogbo, divinity of war. Its vigor prepares warriors for battle, as they develop physical strength, learn military tactics, and embody a war-like frenzy. The dance also displays combat to women and children. Clapping the chest means “me”; snapping fingers means “I am angry!”; and hitting the ground is a show of strength. The costume adds colorful stacks of waistcloth to West African attire, and raffia on the knee is for sacred protection.
Dahomeya (Benin) is the Fon’s ancestral home. The Ewe, now in Ghana, tell a dramatic story about their arrival. In the fifteenth century, the King of Notsie (an area now in Togo) had killed Ewe elders and imprisoned the Ewe. A hidden elder named Tegli devised an escape: the women threw wash water on the city wall, softening the mud brick. With the gods’ help, Tegli broke through.
In Fon and Ewe communities, dance-drumming rites shape religion, warfare, social life, and collective destiny. The rites are performed for consecration, centering oneself in the divine, invocations, and expressing gratitude and reverence. Everyone participates. Elders guide performances, helped by (in decreasing importance) composers, lead drummers, ring-leaders, supporting song leaders, keepers of order, and supporting drummers.
The Ewe say of the drum: a dead animal screams louder than a live one. The drum is a super-voice-surrogate, employing the forces of humans, animal skins, and tree trunks. Drums awaken humankind to new patterns of consciousness. The lead drum (atsimevu) is supported by sogo, kidi, and kagan drums. The bell (gankogui) provides a metronome-like structure, and performers who can’t follow its patterns are called “blind”.
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