A Taste of Africa at DU: Saakumu Music

By Audrey Williamson on October 17, 2012

Thump, thump, thump– the bass drum sounded from afar. Slowly, more and more percussive instruments blended into one another, voices crying and yelling in harmony and joy. Immediately the first image that popped in my head was the Discovery Channel safari shows where the lion hunts down the zebra in Africa as the percussive instruments crescendo.

Photo from Flickr.com by claude05

But this was not the Discovery channel nor was it in Africa. Slowly shirts, skirts, and feathered hats of deep crimson, burnt orange, and dusty yellow appeared on stage. Costumes I had not seen before but nonetheless was mesmerized by. Darkened figures, though far away, danced ever so gracefully along the wooden floor. The thumping of the bass drum diminished as the quick stomping of feet suddenly got louder.

Voices chanted words I could not understand but the language spoke musically to myself and the rest of the audience. This group had such an astounding presence, such a melodic and graceful energy; I hadn’t seen anything like this before. I felt immersed within the African music and colors.

Who are these astonishing people and what was their purpose? It was October 5th and I decided to swing by the Lamont Theater on the University of Denver campus and see what this group had to offer. They came all the way from Ghana, Africa: the Saakumu West African Drummers and Dancers.

Having previously learned about other African music in a class, I was more self-aware and intrigued by the music they performed and the grace of their movements. Unlike music in North America, Saakumu music utilizes sounds of the voice as the rhythm of the percussion. The words these people speak sound exactly the same as the drum beats performed. Not only do their voices and instruments create the music but their dancing and stomping of their feet do as well. The way in which the women stop their feet and dance a certain beat correspond to the rest of the percussion and voices. Between each song performed, one of the group members would give the audience a bit of info about the group and their culture. They explained that the women have their backs hunched over when they dance, using their feet to jump and arms to make large circles and hand movements. This symbolizes respect and tradition in their culture.

Being able to observe such a foreign and unique style of music, something I had only seen on T.V. before, was an experience in itself. I had almost chosen to pass up this opportunity to explore a musical tradition within another culture. I hope that you will take advantage of all the entertainment the Lamont School has to offer. Surely you won’t be disappointed as I was merely astounded and speechless.

Audrey is freshman at DU and her main focus in both writing and interests is music. She loves any type of genre from rap to jazz. Her dream is to become a music journalist and write for the "Rolling Stone" magazine. She plays guitar, drums, piano, and sketches in her free time.

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