The Musical Landscape of Africa: 'Homeland Security' at Berklee College of Music

victor dogah berkleeVictor Dogah of Berklee's West African Drum and Dance Ensemble (Photo by Margot Edwards/Berklee College of Music)

Sitting atop a mountain 8,000 feet high and gazing at the stars over the town of Aburi, Ghana, Joe Galeota, director of Berklee College of Music’s West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, spoke to us via his pay-as-you-go phone about the upcoming Berklee show Homeland Security: Celebrating Contemporary and Traditional African Music and Dance. The performance will take place on January 28, and with students from various countries in Africa, including Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique, Kenya, and others, taking part.

Galeota, an associate professor of percussion at Berklee who claimed he spent his whole life learning African music, said the show will offer viewers the chance to “experience a kind of musical landscape of Africa.”

“They’re going to experience traditional African music, and then pop music, and everything in between. We are going to feature maybe six or seven different acts,” said Galeota. “[Viewers] will have a chance to experience styles of music [from] a collective, collaborative group of folks.” Some of these students, he said, will be singing or performing their own compositions, and some the compositions of others.

Having already traveled back and forth to Africa nearly 30 times in his life, Galeota was in Ghana until January 21, when he flew back to prepare to take on his role as a producer of Homeland Security. At the time of the interview, he was working in the West African country with a group of Berklee students, helping to teach them traditional drumming and dancing of Ghana for three weeks.

“It’s getting more and more exciting because I’ve invested in the people here, and they’ve invested in me, and we’ve built strong relationships,” he said. “The culture is so rich here, and like in every African country, there are so many ethnic groups that make it up. It’s almost inexhaustible. You invest in the community and people, and they invest in you. It’s been a wonderful exchange.”

Homeland Security will showcase the students’ incredibly unique stories through the song and dance of their native countries, bringing a taste of their traditional beats, moves, and garb to Boston. The concert program will highlight the following student-written pieces: “Va Gumulelana (No More War)” by Helder Tsinine, “Battle” by Jason Ekhabi Sibi-Okumu, and “Mwanamuziki,” Swahili for “musician,” written by Annette Oduor. Galeota’s West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, which consists of 16 members, will open the show with “Togo Atsia,” a dance piece originating from the coast of Ghana and Togo.

The Ensemble also includes Victor “Blue” Dogah, a percussionist who was named Berklee’s first Africa Scholar in 2008 through a program organized by Berklee president Roger H. Brown. The show will honor Brown and his wife for their many years of humanitarian work in Africa. The pair, according to Galeota, have “worked hard to bring talented people from Africa to Berklee,” giving them opportunities to learn and succeed.

“These are people [who are dedicated] to expressing themselves through their own cultures,” said Galeota of the students in the show. “It’s really going to be a cultural experience. Anybody who enjoys Africa and African music will enjoy it.”

 

Homeland Security: Celebrating Contemporary and Traditional African Music and Dance takes place on Monday, January 28, 8:15 p.m. at the Berklee Performance Center (BPC), 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. Tickets are $8 in advance, $12 the day of the show, and can be purchased at the BPC Box Office. For more information, call 617-747-2261 or visit berkleebpc.com. The event will also stream live on Concert Window.

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