The ISU West African Drum and Dance Ensemble will perform with the BiaJo Community Dance Group and two special guest artists at 7:30 p.m. Friday, November 15, in Illinois State University’s Kemp Recital Hall. The performance is free and open to the public.
The concert will feature drumming, songs, dances, and folk stories from Ghana and Guinea.
Master artist Tijan Dorwana and his student, Alex Smith, will perform on traditional Ghanaian marimbas called gyil. Dorwana of Ghana and Smith of the United States are both performers, teachers, and instrument makers.
Dorwana was a member of the Ghana Dance Ensemble from 1979-1985 and the Kalifi Dance Ensemble from 1985-1988. He began making gyil in 1988 and soon after became the resident gyil maker for Bernard Woma’s Dagara Music Center. Dorwana has toured throughout Western Europe, the USA, and China. Smith is assistant professor of percussion at the University of Central Missouri. His research is published in peer-reviewed journals such as International Journal of Music Education, Ecomusicology Review, Percussive Notes Online Research Edition, and Perspectives in New Music. Smith received a Fulbright-Hays DDRA Award to continue his work with Dorwana for eight months in Ghana in spring 2019.
The gyil, a Ghanaian marimba, is caught at the intersection of environmental sustainability, global market strains, and its cultural relevance. People value the gyil’s primary material, the endangered Pterocarpus erinaceus (a.k.a. African rosewood), not only for its musical properties, but also its cultural power, domestic usages, and spiritual significance. Complicating this scenario is the fact that international communities now desire these materials for their own music and furniture markets resulting in deforestation and over usage.
Collectively, the over-usage of gyil materials threatens gyil practice, its tourism industry, natural habitats, and continued access to these materials by indigenous populations in Ghana’s Northern Region. But, because of the gyil community’s dual role as an ambassador for Ghanaian music and culture and as a rosewood consumer, it is in a unique position to represent the unheard voice of its natural habitats under threat.
Through depiction of these narratives with film, discussion, and live gyil performance and carving, this multi-media performance presentation encourages a more compassionate and proactive discussion of rosewood sustainability in the percussion community; one that considers the impacts of global consumption on indigenous communities and natural habitats in addition to instrument markets, and that organizes our larger percussion community into activism for us all.
Audience members will have the opportunity to participate during the concert.