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arts & leisure

Community spirit soars at African drum and dance event

Kofi Donkor, center, and Sankofa, perform in the World Stage Series at Bethel Woods Center for the Arts
TRR photos by Jonathan Fox

By Jonathan Fox
April 19, 2013

BETHEL, NY — Maxwell Kofi Donkor and Sankofa returned to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts on April 14 as part of the center’s World Stage Series. The series has grown in popularity in recent years and offers free events to the community, providing a wide range of performances from all around the globe. Last Sunday, the Event Gallery was filled to capacity with families, many of whom arrived early to participate in a signature aspect of the series, a hands-on art activity, this time based on the traditional arts of Africa.

Drummer Donkor, who considers the presentation of Ghanian art and culture his mission, explained that “drumming is the heartbeat of humanity. It balances both positive and negative energies in the individual and ultimately in the community. Drumming heals.”

Combing learning with fun is what this troupe does so well, and last weekend’s show was no exception. Instantly drawing the audience in, Donkor explained how a “call-and-response” participation works and got the ball rolling with the traditional Sankofa (welcome), Amanko (togetherness), Kpatsa (celebrate) and Gidi gidi (peace). The dancers, dressed in colorful African robes, entered the room and joined Donkor and the other drummers on stage as projections of the continent played across the giant screen. The crowd was instantly transported, learning about the percussive instruments and roots of Sankofa’s performance, which is designed to “create an atmosphere of an indigenous African village where everyone gets involved.”

“When the drums are played,” he explained, “there is dialogue between them, like a language which is complimented by voices in call-and-response. The chants lead the way for other instruments like sheakeres, flutes and xylophones, and dancers complete the performance giving additional meaning to an already powerful experience.”

As sight and sound filled the air, dancers mingled with the audience, inviting the kids to participate and share the communal spirit that the ensemble promotes through its message of celebrating cultural diversity. As the kids drummed and whirled, the dialogue between the performers and audience built, fulfilling the group’s mission of “generating a feeling of connectedness and togetherness. The spirit of community, sharing, joy, peace and love calls everyone alike… breaking the barriers of race, color, or gender.” By the end of the show, everyone was on their feet dancing, singing and celebrating those very sentiments.