The Pulse of West African Drumming
It’s not often that we here in Western Washington have the opportunity to listen, and dance to the performance of a recognized master of ethnic music, but such was the case Saturday night, May 6. Saeed Abbas and his ensemble filled Kennelly Keys in Anacortes with the driving, complex rhythms of traditional Ghanaian drumming. The facility was purchased earlier this year and underwent an extensive remodel from its previous life as an antique business. Not only is it a first class music store, but the owners also created a high ceilinged performance space complete with a wide stage and room for a dance floor.
Saeed and his fellow percussionists began the evening with a piece featuring the gangan or talking drum. This type of drum is unique in that it is played under the arm pit. Cords are strung between the dual heads, and by squeezing the drum between the bicep and ribs, it will produce a variety of sounds. According to Saeed, it can be used to convey messages to listeners. The next number was a faster, more pounding waka rhythm where Saeed showed off his amazing skill on the djembe drum. Many people are probably familiar with the hourglass shape and sharp sound of this instrument. The infectious smile on his face and joy with which he played made it clear that drumming is his life and passion. Half way thru the song, he kicked the tempo up a notch. The other members of the ensemble readjusted their grip on the instruments and grinned over at him as the beat swept along with them. By this time, the floor was full of dancers, some of whom had experience with West African moves, and others who just let the rhythm take them away.
After the break, the ensemble launched into a kpanlogo rhythm. Saeed explained that this is more or less the national rhythm of Ghana. It was introduced in 1957 when the West African country gained independence, and is used at all sorts of celebrations. The interplay of the drummers and cowbell created a hypnotic, pulsing beat. Their final offering of the night was a pacha rhythm. Saeed welcomed the whole audience to come out and move to the last number. Most of those in attendance accepted his invitation.
Saeed began drumming at age five, and has developed an impressive list credentials along the way. At age nineteen, he auditioned for, and was accepted into the National Dance Ensemble of Ghana where he became their master drummer. He is also recognized as a master drummer in the Hausa tribe in his home country of Ghana. Over the years he has performed for a host of international dignitaries, include the Clintons, Queen Elizabeth II, and Tony Blair. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, Dartmouth College, Tufts University, and Berklee School of Music.
Saeed is very happy to share his love and dedication to drumming with other people. He now lives on Whidbey Island and teaches classes down in Langley, and most recently has expanded to Monday evening classes at Studio 1010 in Anacortes. The class runs from 7:15 to 8:30. The cost is $20 per class for drop in, or $60 for the four week session. Check out some of his previous performances, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fs6VqXldQi8
Entertainment Writer Mark Perschbacher…A man who will cross great barriers to find exceptional music. Mark is a long time Skagit County resident, contributor to, and supporter of local arts.