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Nani Agbeli Workshop!

Yesterday we welcomed guest artist Nani Agbeli to Ottawa to begin his residency with Baobab Youth and Carleton University’s West African Rhythm Ensemble. Both groups are working towards our November 23 concert “Gahu, EH!” which will take place at Kailash Mitel Theatre on the Carleton Campus.

Nani is based in Boston where he teaches at Tufts University and Berklee. He is originally from the Ewe village of Kopeyia, near the border of Ghana and Togo and our ties with his extremely musical family go way back…..Nani is an exceptional performer and keeper of these traditions and we are very lucky to be able to work with him.

First off though, yesterday Baobab Youth performed a short and well received set at the Granny Fest, in support of their amazing work with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. We then piled into cars and went to meet Nani for an intensive workshop on Tokwoe and Gahu, the two focal points for the upcoming concert. Nani is a tough teacher by his own admission and made everyone work hard. Not only on the nuances and details of the drumming and dance but on the most elusive and critical keys to a great performance: expression and communication of their passion for the music. “I don’t FEEL you!” was a common comment from him, but by the end we were definitely putting it out there.  Here are a few pics….


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Taste of Wellington

The group kicked off our season with an outdoor performance and hands-on drum petting zoo as part of our neighbourhood Taste of Wellington day last Saturday. We set up in front of our temporary rehearsal space at the Hintonburg Community Centre.  The group is smaller this year since we said goodbye to some of our graduating members. But everyone is stepping up to the task of learning lead parts for drumming and dancing and moving outside their comfort zone to try different parts. Its going to be a very good year….


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Rhythm Trek 2012

Just finished a fantastic week at our summer day camp. With the help of volunteers: Carleton Music student Dave Dore; Baobab Youth members Augusta Monet, Emily Klein and Ioyan Manser-Goveas, fourteen young people ranging in age from 7-13 enjoyed an intense week of Ghanaian stick drumming, hand drumming, singing & dancing with myself and Dominic Donkor, outdoor play, swimming, Ghanaian art project with Maureen Clarke and a Ghanaian lunch provided by Rory Magill. It was a fantastic time that culminated in a short performance for parents. See below for some of our fun!

Special thanks to the Rotary Club and the Education Foundation for their support in providing several subsidized spots in the camp.

See a short video of the performance here!



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Drums for Sale!

As most of you know we have been reorganizing over the last few months, which includes consolidating our drum collection, especially since we bought some new ones last summer in Ghana. We have a few drums and other instruments for sale that we no longer need. See below for pics & prices and let us know in the office if you would like to buy anything (613)729-0987


various Ewe stick drums, $75-$100 each

Sogo stick drums $200 each

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Baobab Board

As anyone knows who has been on a board or worked with a non-profit entity, having a committed and vibrant Board of Directors is really important to the running of a healthy and successful organization.  We have always been proud of,  and grateful to the individuals who,  over the years,  have generously given their time and expertise to Baobab’s endeavours. Last night we had a lovely end of year celebration dinner at one of the member’s homes. As we reflected on this year of decision making and budget challenges, we also recalled the great shows and programming that were possible. Next year will look a little different at Baobab…but as a living and breathing organization that has been around for 17 years, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

A big thank you to outgoing Chair Ian Brown, as well as all the members for this season: Hilary Clauson, Alison Clegg, Evie Gray, Carole Johnson, Nadine Powers and Claire Thompson. They have done an amazing job of helping to steer through some turbulent times. Akbesia!

2011-12 Baobab Board members with Hayley de Bie and Kathy Armstrong at an earlier event in the season

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Flight path

Well we’ve done lots and lots of unusual gigs in our 17 year history, but yesterday was our first one done outside under a flight path. It was an end of year performance for Agincourt Elementary School, and hundreds of kids gathered outside on blankets and towels with their hats and sunscreen on for our performance (last for us for this season). We had a small group, given that there were lots of things competing for our youth’s time…testing, exams, school trips etc….but this made the ones who were there work hard,  play new parts and allowed the audience to really get to know them by name…Dan was a big hit with his big voice :). Our drumming sounds fabulous outside….where of course it was meant to be played…but every few minutes a jet would fly overhead and drown us out….kinda fun and novel. Later, Claire and Sara showed a few dance moves to one of the classes as they were leaving, and we all got high fives and “hey teenagers, great show” remarks on the way out.  That’s it for the youth group until we start up again in September. Thanks to Hayley and parents for driving.

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Studio Party

Last night was the last class of the season for our adults and we had a great gathering at the studio to celebrate all the achievements of the students and to thank all of our instructors: Dominic Donkor, Prosper Adjetey, Rory Magill and Julia Walmsley.They have been so inspirational to everyone taking the classes. Their contributions have ranged from a few months to seventeen years! Not with us last evening were Shara Weaver and Dave Bossmin, who we also thank for their great teaching to our classes in past years.

We also had a chance to thank and honour Hayley de Bie, Baobab’s manager,  for all her hard work behind the scenes of the classes over the last seven years…scheduling, registration, statistics, phone calls, emails, payments, refunds; everything that goes along with running 6-8 classes per week at the studio. She is an organizational wizard and a friend to many, and we are going to miss her when we make our changes next season to smaller programming.

Visiting from Boston, musician and dancer Nani Agbeli poured libation and gave a moving prayer invoking his father, the late Godwin Agbeli, master drummer and teacher to both Rory and myself  in our early years of studying this music. He wished future success for all the students and encouraged them to keep going with this music and dance.  He also paid tribute to the history of Baobab and wished for us to stay healthy and keep doing what we do! Some fun dancing followed. A great night. Thanks to Baobab’s Board for all the gifts and food for the evening: Ian Brown, Evie Gray, Nadine Powers, Claire Thompson, Hilary Clauson, Alison Clegg and Carole Johnson.

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A few years ago we started the tradition of honouring the youth who are leaving the group with a special concert.

“Sankofa” is a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol that teaches us that we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.

Like any educational programs,  our group is cyclical and every few years there are a bunch of kids that are graduating…this year we say goodbye to Claire, Sara, Danielle, Claudia, Ben, Zach, Dan, Hudson, Peter, Rowan and Willow. Some of these youth have been with us as long as eight years! Very hard to say goodbye, yet a chance for the younger ones to take on new challenges next season.

The Black Sheep Inn performance yesterday was amazing…..lots of fantastic drumming,  singing and dancing, beginning with an outdoor Takai and finishing with a Gahu , featuring a surprise guest performance on lead drum by Nani Agbeli, son of the late Godwin Agbeli. The audience was a packed house of supporters…many who are parents of those leaving…there were lots of magical moments and great energy for sure. Thanks to Doug Brittain for the great photos!

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Race Weekend Drumming!

Last Sunday, members of Baobab Youth performed for 12,000 runners in the half marathon. We had a great time; it was really exciting and inspiring for us and runners gave us the thumbs up as they rounded the corner on our cheering station. We were also there to drum up awareness for and support the efforts of The Micronutrient Initiative, a wonderful organization that is dedicated to ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable – especially women and children – in developing countries get the vitamins and minerals they need to survive and thrive. Thanks to parent Derek Johnston for movie and photos! Check out the movie here!

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A Letter to our Community

Dear Baobab Friends,

We wanted to let you know of a few changes coming to our organization.  As of September 2012, we will be restructuring our programming and office/studio to respond to the changing times, both social and economic.

Beginning in September, we will focus our programming on youth and children only, offering weekly sessions of ROOTS classes for ages 9-12, as well as Baobab Youth Performers, our performance-based program for youth ages 12-18. We will also be adjusting our Studio space at St George’s to part-time use only, and reducing the administrative duties that go with those changes.

The 2012-13 season will be Baobab’s 18th, and we will continue to celebrate and share the amazing arts of Ghana, West Africa with the Ottawa community and beyond, as we have done since our inception in 1995.  We have enjoyed working with adults for many years and will miss this part of our programming, and the interesting and dedicated people we have met along the way!  We see this restructuring as a necessary change towards keeping our organization as healthy, vibrant and debt free as it currently is, something that would not be possible if we were to remain the same.  A special thanks to our Baobab Board of Directors, under the leadership of Chair, Ian Brown, for their hard work surrounding this major shift.

We are also grateful to the City of Ottawa and St George’s Parish for their continuing support and flexibility through this transition. We are planning a social gathering in our Studio on Monday June 4, at 8:30pm (following the dance and drum classes that finish that evening) for any adults who have participated at any time in our classes and workshops.  All are welcome!

Our website and email contact will remain the same.  Our new phone number as of June 7 will be (613)791-6994. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

 Sincerely, Kathy Armstrong  &  Hayley de Bie
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