Q & A with Obo Addy

29 Oct

Obo Addy, master drummer, is a repository of Ghanaian music history, a brilliant musician, and an innovative original composer – a man of rhythm, deeply rooted in the musical traditions of Ghana, West Africa where he was born.

A professional musician by the age of 18, Obo has played in Europe, Australia, America, Japan, Israel and many other countries. His life-long experience of playing every kind of music- from the ceremonial music of his father, a Wonche or medicine man, to the big band sounds of the Joe Kelly Band, to the traditional sounds of the world renowned Oboade- makes him unique.  He has been touring the United States since the mid 1970’s performing and teaching in colleges and universities and at community centers and festivals.  In 1972, Obo performed at the Olympics in Munich and in 1974 spent three months touring Aboriginal settlements in Australia.

He received a Governors Award for the Arts in Oregon in 1993 as well as a Masters Fellowship from the Oregon Arts Commission and the Regional Arts and Culture Council.  In September of 1996, Obo received the National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor given to traditional artists in this country.  Along with being a Master traditional artist, Obo also has the gift of pulling two worlds together into a new fusion.  He uses his African background to write jazz music for his African Jazz Band, Kukrudu, and has also written orchestral pieces for Kronos Quartet, Saxoforte, Chintimini Music Festival, Third Angle New Music Ensemble and recently for Dance New Amsterdam- a collaboration with Nora Chipaumire and Solo Badolo. His works have been performed by Chamber Orchestras all over the US.

Obo is an adjunct faculty member at Lewis and Clark College in Portland and conducts a one-month residency at Williams College in Massachusetts every year.

Some of his notable performances include:  The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Town Hall in New York, Stanford, UCLA, Williams College, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, Mass MOCA, and the University of Washington.

Why work with kids?
I love children and feel passionate about passing down what I know.  I brought traditional music here from Ghana in the late ‘70’s and was the first African musician to settle in Portland.  I introduced so many children to my music.  Many of those children are now adults who use this in their own work and are passing it down to other children.  I’ve brought and trained over 15 other musicians from Ghana many of whom are using the skills I taught them to teach others.

What do you hope children will get out of a performance or workshop with you?
I want children to enjoy learning my music and about my culture.  I want them to learn the discipline required in drumming and feel the success when they can accomplish that.  I hope that children from other cultures can see what I’m doing and feel their own importance as they bring their cultures into their schools.

Can you tell us about a particularly memorable teaching or performing moment?
I can’t think of one memorable experience but I clearly remember how little people in the northwest knew about Ghana and about African music when I first arrived.  I have worked very hard to confront stereotypes and share the richness of my music and my culture with students and teachers alike. I always think about how things are changing for the better.

What would you like teachers to know?
I would like teachers to know that anyone can learn to drum.  I always encourage every student to believe that he or she can do anything they set out to do.  When teachers tell me why a particular student is limited, I push past that to encourage them to try.  I’m always surprised at the way some students can grasp the rhythms and express themselves through this musical art form.

This year, in addition to his great performance program, Obo is offering an African drumming residency through Young Audiences. You can read the full description of his programs on our website.

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