Looking into Russell’s West African Workshop

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Russell Hartenberger presents a hands-on West African Drumming
Workshop in which participants play drum ensemble music from the
Ewe, Akan and Dagomba people of Ghana. Polyrhythms, call and
response, talking drums, all fascinate Russell and he enjoys sharing
that fascination with workshop participants. Russell has explored
these elements in his own composition The Invisible Proverb,
featured on the NEXUS CD Drumtalker.

Russell’s workshop can accommodate any number of people. Groups of  8-10 at a time learn to play on traditional West African
instruments. The rhythmic construction of the music is analyzed and Russell demonstrates performance techniques. The workshop also   includes discussions on the social context of the music, the   relation of West African music to Western music and the use of   standard Western percussion instruments as substitutes for West   African instruments. The workshop runs between one and two hours   depending on the number of participants.

Ewe drummersThe Ewe are a seaside people of the southeastern corner of Ghana and nearby   Togo, renowned for their drumming and singing.  Dance-drumming is an integral part of   their community life and everyone participates: the male and female   elders, the composer who is responsible for the creation of the
distinct texture that forms the Ewe dance-drumming style, the lead   drummer and the ensemble of supporting drummers, singers and dancers.

Akan drummersThe Akan people are also of southern Ghana and adjacent Cote d’Ivoire   and Togo. Their communities hold drummers in high regard, and their   form of the talking drum is called the “atumpan”. Akan musicians use
the tension head on the atumpan primarily to create a falling pitch   on drum strokes, achieving a  wide tonal range.

Dagomba drummersThe Dagomba people make lunga and gung-gong drums from cedar wood,   and the job of felling the trees and carving the logs into the drum   shape is a special one. The drummers themselves then turn the wood
shells into lunga drums using goat skin, antelope skin, cane, and   grass. The drum sticks too are a particular art. A wooden branch is   carved to  approximate size, boiled until flexible, and then bent
into a curved shape and held there with a goat skin cord. Once   cooled, the drummer can whittle the stick to smoothness. You can   read more at Elana Cohen-Khani’s website on Dagomba Dance Drumming. She created this exceptional website as a graduating senior project at Tufts University last year.

Russell’s workshop is a great opportunity to learn about the   important drumming traditions of these communities, and to   understand how their music “works”. For more information on presenting this unusual workshop, drop us a line!

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