About this project
Youth to Youth: Preserving & Perpetuating Ghanaian Traditional Drum & Dance through Performance and Film
We are the Asebu Youth Ensemble, a traditional drumming and dancing ensemble in Asebu, Ghana, near Cape Coast. We are led by Frank "Teacher" Kow Otoo, Afotey Otoo, and Lauren Brick. We are making two short videos!
The ensemble performs many vibrant traditional pieces from all over Africa, including acrobatics, comedy pieces, and educational pieces geared to entertain and teach our audiences. They also tell the stories and histories of our dances, which have been passed on for centuries. Educational pieces teach their communities on pertinent issues confronting humanity, such as health issues, AIDS prevention, child abuse and trafficking, domestic violence, environmental issues, malaria, and many more.
The ensemble is more than a drum circle. It is a home, a school, and a family to these children. It is an after-school club that keeps kids off the streets. It is their joy. "Teacher" aims to educate under privileged youth, who in turn can infect the community with their hope. Afotey wants more for the children than he had himself – a full education. If this group were not able to continue to book shows and do community outreach (as the videos will allow them to do), the group will vanish; there are no other options in this city for children to learn what they learn from Teacher and Afotey. Without groups like Asebu, traditional music will disappear as young people lose interest.
Lauren, Afotey, and Teacher have been collaborating since 2003, when Lauren studied with Asanti Dance Theatre. She also witnessed Afotey and Teacher's incredible abilities to reach young people through music and dance. Afotey and Teacher met in 2001, when the group formed.
We are in need of two short videos. Sounds simple enough, right?
Video #1: The educational video will be comprised of 3-6 cultural performance pieces, together with explanations of each piece’s history and the story it tells. These videos can be distributed to schools in Ghana and the U.S., educating youth on either side of the Atlantic about Ghanaian cultural history as well as using artistic expression to teach about social issues. This video will also serve as a means to archive not only the group's work, but also the traditional performance pieces.
Video #2: This can be thought of as a promotional video or a “demo” highlighting the group’s capabilities, repertoire, and educational component. The group can use this to get “gigs” at hotels, resorts, universities, and schools so that they can earn money to pay for the youth’s meals and school fees in the future, and to continue their community education outreach, which brings us back to the importance of the first video.
The bigger issue: Preserving, perpetuating, and sharing traditional cultural performance pieces. Teacher, Afotey, and Lauren are all committed to educating youth in Ghana and the U.S. about traditional African drumming and dancing. With the Ghanaian version of hip-hop (“hiplife”) blasting out of every speaker throughout town, the invasion of Western dance styles, and relatively newer religious influences, people in Ghana are losing interest in traditional music and dance. Just as D.J.’s have nearly eradicated wedding bands, huge amplifiers and pop music have replaced historically cultural performance – even at funerals. In addition, many people in the U.S. have huge misconceptions of what African performance arts are really like.
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Afotey Otoo: The Power.
Afotey Otoo comes from a line of cultural performance artists in Accra, Ghana. With his father having been a Master Drummer and his mother a dancer, Afotey was destined to become a respected Master Drummer. He has been a member of countless cultural ensembles in Accra and Cape Coast, as well as a guest artist in other groups. Aside from a stint in the army corps band, Afotey has always sought to perpetuate traditional performance. He traveled West Africa learning from other Master Drummers in efforts to broaden his repertoire and skill set. To this day, Afotey is constantly soaking up and inventing riveting rhythms and performances.
Afotey founded Black Heritage Cultural Group, a children’s drum and dance ensemble in which he taught the history, story, drama, song, dance, and music behind each piece. Unfortunately, the group fizzled after he became very ill and weak for a period of time, and he was unable to reach his vision of a cultural school that would not only provide daily meals, but would also pay the children’s school fees.
Afotey is known for dazzling crowds and baffling fellow musicians with his acrobatic moves, mind-boggling rhythms, and dramatic poise. People know him as the man who can play a drum louder with his bare hand than anyone using a drumstick or mallet.
Frank "Teacher" Kow Otoo: The Passion.
Frank Otoo (no relation to Afotey Otoo,) popularly known as “Teacher” in the field of the performing arts due to his background as a tutor, was born in a small historic village called Asebu near Cape Coast, Ghana. Teacher’s incredibly gentle, optimistic, and fair attitude, combined with his humanitarian and generous spirit allow him to be ever-focused on aiding the underprovided to acquire quality formal education, vocation and do any thing to bridge up the gap between the privileged and the under-provided.
Frank founded Etsii Kusum Agoromba African Dance Group in August 2000, which later collaborated with other performers to form Akatakyi Dance Theatre. He is also a founding member of Asanti Dance Theatre. He has distinguished himself as a skilled drum and dance educator as well as choreographer. Teacher can be described as an inexhaustible collector of declining traditional styles of multi-ethnic cultural pieces.
Teacher has a vision of one day establishing a school of arts and sciences which will offer opportunities to those of low socio-economic status in the community to access it freely. The campus would include an art studio to train, nurture, and harness the artistic potentials of youth to make them confident to face the word with hope and joy, carrying on the traditional performance pieces of their culture.
Lauren Brick: The Nerd.
Born, raised, and residing in the Detroit area, Lauren has had a deep interest in all-things-Africa for as long as she can remember. A musician her entire life (primarily classical piano and jazz trombone), she began studying West African, East African, and Trinidadian music as an undergrad. She has been to Ghana three times, and during that second trip in the middle of her senior year (2003), met Teacher and Afotey.She witnessed, firsthand, the infectious nature that Afotey and Teacher's passion has on young people.She took drumming, dancing, and singing lessons from Afotey 2004-2005. In 2004, she competed in the World Steel Pan Festival in Trinidad and Tobago.
Upon graduation, she yearned for more and moved to Ghana to pursue a Master’s degree, studying under John Collins, Juma Santos, and Willie Anku. In addition Lauren was an apprentice under Master Drummer Afotey Otoo, dancer Appiah Annan, and performed with the Asanti Dance Theatre (as the only foreigner), of which Afotey and Teacher were members and Appiah led in Cape Coast, and now leads in Australia. Lauren has choreographed dances for Oakland University’s Akwaaba, Oakland University’s original production, Serengeti Tales, Port Huron Northern High School’s Drum Ensemble, and Bloomfield Hills Middle School’s production of Once on this Island. She has done several drum and dance workshops at area schools.
Risks and challenges
How do we do this?
We currently have no problem with interest in group membership by young people in Ghana – we have the group. What we need is the young people at rehearsals and performances consistently, and that means making their parents happy. How do we make their parents happy? We feed the kids after rehearsals and pay their school fees. That way, the kids are at rehearsals and performances, doing and sharing what they love, rather than at the market working after school (or even at the market during the school day because their family cannot afford to NOT have them work). We also need the kids healthy (mosquito nets are extremely inexpensive), updated costumes, and repaired/new drums for the video. The kids often receive their outfits as hand-me-downs from adult troupes, so they are tattered and do not fit. Drums are often in a state of disrepair and the group will use the incorrect drums pieces that call for a certain type of instrument.
We have ALL the performance material and know-how. We just need a snappy recording.
Presently, we plan to hire a local documentary company in Ghana to film and produce the videos. We’d like to support a Ghanaian business if we had the choice. The catch is: the video quality and format. The good thing is, the more money we are able to raise, the better quality video we can produce, and the higher chance we will be able to film directly in a format usable in the U.S.
Lauren will travel back to Ghana (familiar territory to her) with the funds in hand. She will be recording every Ghanaian cedi (dollar) spent. The three leaders already have a working contract outlining how monies will be allocated. Afotey and Teacher have been in the performing arts business for decades and know the best sources and most reliable people in their industry. Lauren previously partnered with Afotey and a drum-maker to supply quality, affordable drums to educators in Michigan. There are 9 years of trust among these three leaders.
Our group leaders have the qualifications and experience to be able to see this project through to completion:
* Both Afotey and Teacher have worked with several renowned dance directors, artistic directors, choreographers, and percussionists, among whom are Joseph Kojo Appiah Annan (Founder Asanti Dance Theatre, Australia-Ghana) Jacqui Dressens (Wild Moves International Australia and lecturer in Dance at Deakin University), John Flash Stephens of Association culture et Theatre N Nigerian legs (Nigeria), Rehemah Bah and Dr. Sharita (U.S.A.), John K. Zie of African Foot Print Int. (Ghana –Denmark), Reginald Sackey of Agoro Theatre Company (Ghana) and other international percussionists like Kofie Kunkpe and Samuel Pacito Ofori. Teacher and Afotey have performed at countless festivals, including Panafest, universities, events, and tourist destinations.
* Lauren comes equipped with years of experience in organizing and leadership. She served a year on the Board of Directors of the Detroit Derby Girls, LLC as the Treasurer, managing the finance of the national-level roller derby league of the WFTDA (Women’s Flat Track Derby Association). In addition to managing numbers & customers at a copy, print, and design shop for three years, Lauren has been balancing a caseload at a Big Brothers Big Sisters agency for four years, putting her mediation, assessment, and group facilitation skills up to bat. Her “what’s best for the group” mentality comes from years of participating in group sports, music and performance ensembles, and various work groups. She is currently pursuing her Master’s of Social Work at University of Michigan, currently ranked first in schools of social work in the nation, specializing in interpersonal practice with children, youth, and families and honing her acrobatic and aerial skills at The Detroit Flyhouse.
B.A. Anthropology, minor African Studies – Oakland University, 2004
M.A. Musicology (Ethnomusicology) – University of Ghana, Legon, 2005
M.S.W. – University of Michigan, 2013
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