When I went to college, I was ecstatic to see a class offered called “West African Drumming” and “West African Dance.” So I took both. After taking one class, you are entitled to join the club of West African Drumming and Dancing called Abusua. Abusua means “family”. These were all from Ghana. During this time I learned several things. I’m a good dancer. I love a physical challenge. And, I could drum pretty well until asked about the mechanics of it.
Dancing. I love dancing. It’s not about the performance as the learning. I love learning new things, complex things, challenging yet easy things. And when you’re having to raise your body up on one arm over and over and swing your hips for 15 minutes straight, you will be challenged…in an easy way, like weight lifting. So I loved it. I also loved the freedom allowed. If you are dancing on stage, chances are, you’re not going to be allowed much freedom. You’re going to have to stay in pretty strict control. But with Abusua, we weren’t showing off our skills, we were showing you what Ghanans do when they get together. It’s a lot like country line dancing. You have basic steps, but you can flair it up and enjoy yourself with it too. So it was basically a 3 hour party every time. This is probably one of the reasons I loved country line dancing even though I hate country music.
Drumming. I drummed really well, and then one day…. I was taking the drumming class and Razz (the teacher-Joseph Rasmussen, but we called him Razz) used me as an example. He wanted me to break down how I was able to get it to the other students. That was it. I never thought about it. But ever since then, I did, and I was never able to drum well again. I over analyzed, but this time, it was NOT my fault-ha ha! But that’s fine by me. Although I would love to me able to drum, dancing is a lot more fun for me.
So it’s been 14 years since I last did that. 14 years. Crazy. And we had a reunion. The group is, unfortunately, not going anymore. Godwin Agbali (who would come from Africa every year to teach and show) passed on, as well as Razz.
They look so empty and lonely this way. Surprisingly, I was able to remember a great deal of their names, but there’s no way I’m spelling them right. This big one on the left-the momma drum-is the ahtzimaybu. The inside-out maracas (big gourds with shells sown on) are ahatzays. The metal bell which is like a little cow bell and a big cow bell welded together is a gonkogi. I remember the two twin drums, second and third from the left, as totogee. And that’s it for the names I remember. There was also a talking drum and a wooden xylophone, but they weren’t there.
THAT’s more like it!
And then came the dancing. I was so optimistic. I just knew I knew all the moves, right? I mean, I could still hear the calls in my head like I was at practice last night. But, I couldn’t. It was even more difficult because things had changed. When I first started, we did dances by calls. You heard a certain drum beat, and you knew what to do next, like square dancing only far easier, and less puffy, and with better music. Then, we started choreographing the dances. I started to forget the calls and just do what was next. We also had a bunch of songs. We sang this song at the beginning, this one during this move, etc. Then that quit. Then some of the moves changed, and more were added. This is an evolving “art” as it naturally evolves from the tribes of Ghana (hence why Godwin came by and updated up from time to time). By the time it had gone on for years without me, I was lost.
But it was all good. We had food, awesome music, and each other to laugh at.
No, there are no pictures of me. I remembered my camera, but decided not to take it because I wanted to enjoy the experience, not be a journalist. It was worth it. And thanks to all those who shared their pictures to make this post possible!!
Maybe the next generation will start it again!
These are horse tails (I think. It varies). They are used during the war dance Adjiadbakor. It was always my favorite. I brought my own gonkogi and ahatzay, but alas, I never owned my own tail.
I’m really looking forward to next year, and I think the others are too!
Now for the anecdote. When I did this in college, I’m sure it hurt the first time, but I don’t remember that. I just remember dancing like my rear was on fire for 3 hours straight. This was inside a building. This reunion was not during the school year inside a building. It was outside after an hour drive without an air conditioner (our car doesn’t have one-that’s its own story) in the hot hot summer. So, after my favorite, Adjiadbakor, I not only had to come to the realization that I had forgotten too many moves, but that my body was NOT what it once was. I was dying, and I thought I was alone. Imaging my relief when we exited back stage only to find everyone doubled over, leaning against the wall gasping for breath “What is up with this leg?!” “I don’t remember hurting like this!”. The rest of us couldn’t speak for breathing too hard. Comradery at its best!