About Us

Mission & Vision Statements

Baobab Community provides a collaborative and inclusive environment in which children and youth learn and perform West African singing, drumming and dance.

We envision a future in which people are actively engaged and enriched through world music, dance and culture, thus enabling them to become creative and confident global citizens.

History

Baobab Community is a non-profit arts education and presentation organization located in the vibrant Wellington West neighbourhood of Ottawa, Canada. Named for the unusual and resilient African Baobab tree, their classes in West African drumming, dancing and singing have brought together people of all ages and backgrounds in the Ottawa community since 1995. Drumming provides confidence, self-esteem, physical workout and community building. Baobab Tree is a socially responsible organization that gives back to the African community by raising awareness for the village of Dagbamete in Ghana, as well as supporting Ottawa organizations. Many of its members have traveled there to study and visit.  Established in 1995 by Kathy Armstrong and Rory Magill, this multi-branched organization has reached thousands of people in the Ottawa and surrounding areas, while affecting lives throughout the world.

Support

Baobab Community is a registered educational charity and is generously supported in part by the City of Ottawa. Other funding comes from our programming and private donations, as well as the Rotary Club and the Gaia Fund (through the Ottawa Community Foundation). We are grateful for the continued support.

Artistic Director and ROOTS Class Instructor:

Kathy Armstrong is a percussionist and educator who is well-known for her work in bringing Ghanaian music and dance to choirs, schools and community groups in North America and Europe. She received her Master’s of Music from the University of Toronto, and has studied extensively in Ghana since 1990.  Her commitment to community development and cross-cultural understanding informs and strengthens the inherent power of this art form. Based in Ottawa since 1994, she founded Baobab Community in 1995. Kathy also teaches part time at Carleton University, and freelances locally and internationally. She is currently pursuing further graduate studies looking at links between music and health and well-being. For more information  please visit www.kathyarmstrong.ca

Youth Interns:

MeaghanCBH Headshot

 

 

 

 

Through a pilot project grant from the City of Ottawa Cultural Funding, Baobab  hired two talented young adults. Meaghan Cullen previously completed a Practicum course with us in the 2013-14 season as part of the final year of her music degree at Carleton University. In 2014-15, Meaghan worked with Baobab on developing outreach and collaborative projects with youth and youth-focused organizations in the Ottawa area, including organizing our community coffeehouse this year “SongKeeper”. Ben Holland has been working on improving our social media profile towards our  20th Anniversary season, and taking great pictures for us! Ben is a former ROOTS and Baobab Youth member! So wonderful to have alumnae back with their expertise!

Finance Manager:

A music lover her whole life, Hayley de Bie attended her first Baobab performance in 1998 and became our operations manager almost 10 years later in 2006 and stayed in that position for seven years. Her current role is on contract for our finance requirements. Hayley brings her experience in community, volunteerism and education to the Tree and always seems to have a smile for everyone!

 

Artistic Mentors:

Master Drummer Kwasi Dunyo  is friend, mentor, leader, teacher and inspiration for Baobab Tree members. From the first meeting with him in Ghana in 1990, he has unfailingly supported our efforts to learn, enjoy and celebrate the vibrant music and dance of his people and culture. Kwasi was born at the Ewe village of Dagbamete in the Volta Region of Ghana. He has been drumming from the time he could only reach the drums by standing on blocks.  Since then he has drummed, danced, taught and directed extensively in a variety of contexts in Ghana and North America and most recently, Taiwan. Coming to Canada first in 1992, through Kathy Armstrong  and with the help of the Canada Council, his open and generous style and great love of the music earned him many praises. In addition to guest residencies at numerous universities, Kwasi is the founding director of the West African Cultural Exchange, and annually hosts drumming tours to his village of Dagbamete in Ghana. Currently he is based in Toronto where he teaches at the University of Toronto, York University and directs the Kekeli Ensemble. www.dunyo.com

Before coming to Canada, Dominic Donkor toured extensively with the prestigious Ghana National Dance Ensemble. These tours took him to South America, Europe, South Africa & USA. Now based in Montréal, he is the Director of Keteke which performs traditional music from Ghana. Dominic has performed with Baobab Tree since its inception and is well regarded for his singing,  drumming and teaching talents.

 

Prosper Adjetey lives in Montréal and was also a touring member of the Ghana National Dance Ensemble, which took him to Japan, as well as many other places around the world. Currently he is teaching classes and performing in Montréal, in addition to being the assistant director of Keteke. Prosper has been a featured guest artist of Baobab Tree for several years, most recently in the Drum Beat East show with the Ghana Language and Culture School. His dancing amazes all who see him and his workshops are a real workout!

Nani Kwashi Agbeli
Nani Agbeli is  from the village of Kopeyia in the Volta Region of Ghana. From his childhood, Nani received drum and dance training from his father, the late Godwin Agbeli.  Nani currently lives in California, where he is on the faculty of the California Institute for the Arts, as Director of Ghanaian Arts. Nani has come to Ottawa to work with us twice before,  and is one of the featured artists in our 20th Anniversary season! See more here!

MaureenA naturally creative person, Maureen Clarke, first started working with Baobab in November 2009, for a production the Baobab Youth did at the Ottawa Storytellers Festival, and has since become our resident visual arts instructor, creating Ghanaian themed art projects for our ROOTS and educational programs, as well as our summer camp.   Maureen has been volunteering with children for several years in the arts and, while her background is in business, she has found her home creating art with kids and her motto is “be creative, work hard and have fun!”.


Our Inspiration

Baobab Tree was formed in 1995 by Kathy Armstrong and Rory Magill, after spending several years immersed in the drum, dance and song culture of Ghana, both in Toronto and in Ghana.  Their early studies were during the 1980’s and the exciting emergence of the world music scene in Canada. Impressed by the African villages where there is a place for all to participate in these arts, as well as a basic integration of the arts in everyday life they wanted to bring this kind of music study and immersion to their musical careers here in Canada. Their main village of study was Dagbamete (dag-bam-eh-teh) a 2 hour drive east of Accra (the capital of Ghana) on a highway that passes through many small towns and crosses the famous Volta River.

The village itself is home to about 300 people, many from the two prominent families of Dunyo and Davor (including Kwasi Dunyo. Many people in Dagbamete are farmers, although some work in the market and at jobs in the nearby town of Akatsi. Much of the life in Dagbamete is traditional, but that is changing quickly, as in other parts of the world. However, the friendliness of the people and vibrancy of the culture are sure to never change. Dagbamete has its own Elementary School and Jr Secondary School as well as a new health clinic for which Baobab Tree has helped raise funds. This health clinic is special in that it combines traditional medicine and herbal healing with western medicine.

Kwasi Dunyo’s senior brother, Hunua Yao Dunyo, is a respected traditional healer and he is the head of the Apetorku Shrine in Dagbamete, a place where many people come from surrounding villages to be healed and to solve minor disputes. Much drumming and dancing goes on in the shrine and visitors are welcome to observe. The main language spoken is Ewe (eh-way),  as well as other Ghanaian languages such as Twi. Children learn to speak English from about age eight in school, so many people in the village will converse with you in English. The vegetation is savannah-like, with grasses and soft sand. Stands of Bamboo trees make nice shade for an afternoon nap on a grass mat. Houses are made of cement blocks with corrugated tin-roofs as well as the more traditional mud-brick with thatch roof. Many of them are painted bright blues and pinks. Weather is hot and humid as Dagbamete is close to the ocean.

WACE CENTRE and KATHY ARMSTRONG LODGE

Kwasi Dunyo is the founder of the West African Cultural Exchange (WACE). The WACE centre is situated in the Ewe village of Dagbamete, Ghana, Kwasi’s African home. The centre was opened officially in the summer of 2001, during a visit by the Baobab Youth Performers. Since then it has served as home away from home for many visitors to the village who come to study the traditional arts in Ghana. The centre’s main building is named for Kathy Armstrong, Baobab Tree’s founder. Kathy Armstrong Lodge has 12 double rooms for sleeping, a sitting room, dining hall and restful porch. The village has recently acquired running water and electricity, making flush toilets and evening light a reality.

Baobab Tree regularly takes the youth group for studies to the WACE Centre. As well, there are public tours you can take:

Into the Sound of the Drum tours: Experience the spirit of Africa in this unique 3 week tour to Ghana, hosted by Kwasi Dunyo in his home village of Dagbamete each summer. Highlights include daily drumming, visits to drumming societies in other villages, markets, fishing towns, Kakum National Rainforest Park and the historic slave castles. For info on the public tour, please contact:
Kwasi Dunyo
394 Main St.,Toronto,
Ontario, Canada M4K 4X8
kwasi@dunyo.com