As part of Lawrence’s World Music Series, Okaidja Afroso presented a beautiful performance of traditional Ghanaian folk music with the intention of spreading a message of preservation of African music and culture. Joining him were Titus Nartey and Manavihare Fiaindratovo on vocals and percussion. Afroso provided lead vocals, guitar, percussion and even dances.
The songs that they performed were folksy and lovely and each have their own unique history that is essential to Afroso’s message of spreading this music so that it may not be lost. Afroso regaled the audience with anecdotes about his life and experiences in Ghana and his subsequent relocation to Portland. He was incredibly charismatic and an entertaining storyteller. In the biographical information provided by the program booklet, it stated that Afroso comes from a family of “musicians and storytellers in the village of Kokrobite on the west coast of Ghana.” He began his career as a dancer in the Ghana Dance Ensemble at the age of 19. He showed off some of his impressive dancing skills during a couple of the songs. The songs that they performed were a mixture of traditional Ghanaian folk music with original compositions by Afroso that are inspired by the music he grew up hearing and the people from his village. He wrote a song about the fishermen in his village, for they play a very important role in the culture of his particular village.
Many of the pieces were rhythmic to the point that the audience was all too eager to clap along, and Afroso was more than happy to indulge them. Towards the end of the performance, he commented on how consistent the audience’s clapping was, considering that they could stay on beat for an entire song. He was impressed with the level of passionate audience participation that is quite common amongst musical Lawrentians. By the end of the performance, he had the audience standing and singing along, which he said is typically an uncommon occurrence at his shows, but he was delighted that the audience was so invested in the music considering it calls for everyone to be involved, even if they are not performing.
The two men accompanying Afroso were also brilliant musicians; one of them was from Afroso’s same tribe in Ghana and the other all the way from Madagascar. They played a variety of unique drums which created a varied soundscape.
After the performance had finished there was time for questions. Senior Daniel Green asked if Afroso and his bandmates could teach him something on the drum, and they happily did. Considering the musicians are invested in the preservation and teaching of this music, it was a lovely way to end the evening with them literally passing on their knowledge to the younger generation. It would be surprising if there was even one person whose heart was not filled with warmth and joy by the end of the performance.