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Baobab Sankofa, pandemic style!

Last Thursday night, we held a an outdoor physically distanced ceremony for the Sankofa ending to Baobab Community, as August is the end of our final fiscal year and 25th Season. And also, since we did not get to do our celebration concert in June, nor our trip to Ghana in July. It was a modest but very special evening. Much love and gratitude all around!

We toasted the current Baobab Youth, who received the coveted bottles of Fanta, and masks made of Ghanaian cloth.

We thanked our wonderful Board of Directors under the leadership of Evie Gray and Kerry Gogush Cule: Dalton Holloway, Dave Hennessy, Nadine Powers & Cathy Sandiford, and welcomed past Board members to join us for the photo. Our awesome Hayley de Bie greeted guests at the gate which included alumni and friends.

We had two very special video presentations, first the pouring of libations and greeting from the one and only Kwasi Dunyo (via Toronto, thanks to Kofi & Andrew)

We also premiered our Virtual Gahu Pandemic Project, which you can see here:

There was some drumming, including a Drum Talk procession down the street and a large Gahu with alumni! So fun!

The Board and Youth & families presented me with a wonderful gift for my garden, a decorative garden ornament, a tree where the roots are as big as the branches…a great metaphor! So beautiful! I was so grateful to have my family with me as well, Rory, Iris and my mom. All my family has been so supportive of this incredible and unexpected path I have taken. This was not the ending we had planned, but it was a very special night, and I think we all felt some much needed closure.

I usually speak off the cuff at events, but for this momentous occasion I wrote down a few thoughts to share with everyone and I have posted them here:

Baobab was born out of a desire to share the amazing music and community context of the vibrant culture in Ghana that I had been introduced to in the late 1980s. This music, my experience in a drum/dance group in Toronto and trips to Ghana were the initial points of connection between Rory and myself. It seemed natural when we moved from Toronto to Ottawa to begin something together in 1995, as I was committed to teaching music in some way and had been inspired by many Choral community groups I had already worked with, and Rory and I had been playing this music together for several years by then.  He started giving adult lessons for $5, at Arts Court, which led to the formation of Akpokli, our adult group. I began with 7 kids in the youth group, meeting Wednesday afternoons, a timeslot we kept for all of our 25 years!  Our first gig was at the Black Sheep Inn, a venue that we continued to perform at annually and have close ties to.

During our history, Baobab expanded and contracted in response to the needs of the Ottawa community, and our own capacity. We added the younger Roots class and summer Rhythm Trek camp, the public adult classes, a parent and toddler class, seniors sessions and dozens of performances and workshops each year. We collaborated with many other artists and groups, and learned from many Ghanaian master musicians and dancers.  For the performing groups, there were trips to Banff, Syracuse, Washington DC, Woodstock NY and Woodstock Ontario, and London, Waterloo, Kingston and Toronto. The 2001 youth crew (some of whom are here tonight) recorded a CD and were the first group to go to Ghana. Some parents told me later they thought I was crazy, but that trip brought into focus all that we stood for: intercultural learning, mentoring, multi-age groupings and being in community, through the lens of artistic excellence. Our regular trips every few years became a hallmark for the program and have given many youth, their parents, and our adult students unforgettable experiences that in some cases have changed the course of their lives. The 30 year reciprocal relationship we have with the village of Dagbamete, our teacher Kwasi Dunyo and his family there makes it seem like we are visiting our second home when we go. As a direct result of our longtime connection, there are now more than six members of the Dunyos who have immigrated to Canada, and are making families and putting down roots here.

All this wonderful activity and growth has had its challenging moments, as you can imagine! We had no blueprint for building an organization such as this. After our family grew to include our lovely Iris, Rory and I figured out that we would be better off not working so closely together anymore, as I wanted to take the organization into a more formalized direction. We have continued an artistic partnership and Rory has taught Baobab classes and is responsible for turning on a whole generation of kids to Ghanaian food at our summer Rhythm Trek camp. Iris was in Roots and the youth group, and has helped out with the summer camp a few times. Both Rory and Iris remain a strong inspiration for me for this work.

Over the years, Baobab Community heavily depended on our fantastic volunteer Board of Directors, many of whom are here tonight. Their careful and dedicated commitment to our larger goals ensured that we could steer through both positive and troubling times with support and love. Our Board members were always game for rolling up their sleeves and getting things done, along with all of our terrific parent volunteers, which was so important to our success.  In our 11th year we received grant money to hire an operations manager, who was Hayley de Bie. As most of you know, that was a game changer for our organization! There is nothing that Hayley didn’t tackle, from helping us find our new studio at St Georges, to organizing systems for EVERYTHING and somehow getting an airline to fly us home from Ghana in business class. She remains our finance manager today, and a dear friend to us all.

Our grants and programming income have been augmented by our wonderful donors, all of whom have some kind of personal connection to us and our members. We have held grassroots fundraising events and received personal donations both small and large. They have contributed immensely to our efforts and I want to take a moment to acknowledge those donors who are here this evening. Thank You!

A few years ago, I became aware that our goals and programming were not working as well as they had in the past. Perhaps this was due to social changes in the world around us.  Perhaps it was me looking for new expressions for my work. I felt that I was not as effective as I had been and a sense of community was harder to build in a fast-paced world. After a few specific roadblocks, it became clear to me that the Baobab model had reached capacity and it was time for new voices to be heard. Given the social changes in the world right now, perhaps we were the canary in the coalmine. In consultation with our current Board, we thought through a viable ending and dreamed up a fabulous 25th and final season, which we are closing now, not exactly as planned, but special all the same.

It is difficult to put 25 years into words (although I just tried, didn’t I?). I can say that the people I have met through Baobab, and the experiences we have shared together have shaped me personally, my family life and the work I do.  This unique path was certainly not expected, but somehow feels like a destiny and I feel so very blessed to be here with you right now.

KA August 27th, 2020
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End of season thoughts

This has been a challenging week for so many. I feel inadequate in expressing my grief and outrage at the actions in the USA and the systemic racism that continues in many parts of the world, including Canada. I have aligned myself with African culture for more than 30 years; learning, benefiting and exchanging. Longtime connections have resulted in deep friendships and very special family ties. I know my privilege allowed me to engage in the first place. I naively thought in the beginning that it should be possible for all music cultures to be shared among all people. I still believe that. But maybe not so naively anymore. I have made missteps along the way. I continue to learn from my friends and teachers in the global Black community, and reflect on the work still to be done. Those meaningful relationships have sometimes been messy, confusing and challenging but it is in that engagement where the real gains happen. Our lives have been transformed through knowing each other.

Today would have been the last Baobab concert of our 25th and final season, with the wonderful Kwasi Dunyo at the Gboba, leading more than 100 performers in celebration. The sadness I feel that something so vibrant and dear to me is ending, in an unexpected silent chapter, is somewhat comforted by the fact that the whole world will never be the same. We can hope and work for something better to replace it. We must. Thinking of our whole community today. Kahti xo

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Baobab @ RCMP

Fume Fume in action!

On February 12, Baobab Youth, along with Dominic Donkor and Prosper Adjetey performed at the RCMP National Headquarters, as part of their Black History month celebrations. A lot of preparation went into security planning and rehearsals a few weeks before the event. Final rehearsing took place on site, where we went over some last minute details with Prosper and Dominic who had come in from Montreal for the day. While we waited for the gig to begin, we spent time in a lovely meeting room, complete with security detail outside. During that time we were presented with several special gifts: some beautiful pins with the new RCMP insignia on them, waterbottles, and a very nice Certificate of Appreciation. The concert took place in the magnificent atrium of the building. People gathered around as well as looked down from their office windows. We played a few pieces that reflected the range of our repertoire. Fume Fume was a particular hit! Afterwards, one of the parents treated the youth to a box of Timbits from the onsite Tim Horton’s , which were also a big hit! Here are a few photos from the event. We did not take any of these, as our phones were not allowed in the building! Sorry no photo credit was given, but there are a few nice ones. Thanks to everyone who helped out that day!

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Poster Art for Sale!

Over our 25 year history, almost all of our vibrant posters and logos have been created by graphic designer John Sekerka. We have put them together in four distinct and beautiful collages ($10 each unframed or $25 framed). We also have some individual posters that have been plaqued ($25 each). These are available for sale all season. Great for gifts! Contact us at if you wish to purchase any or would like more info. All proceeds will go towards our legacy film project. Special Thanks to Board member Kerry Gogush Cule for organizing and Merge Print & Design for printing. The placqued posters can be viewed on our facebook page

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Dance Party! Celebrating 25 years!

What an fantastic time we all had on Saturday night, at Highlife Time! We started the evening off with a tribute to our longtime graphic designer, John Sekerka. His unique posters for our events over the last 25 years were all beautifully displayed around the gorgeous room at St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. Collages and individual posters were sold during the evening, and proceeds will go towards a Baobab legacy film project. Many thanks to Board member Kerry Gogush Cule and team who worked so hard to put this part of the evening together! It all looked amazing!

Board Member & MC Dalton Holloway welcomed the capacity crowd to the space, and asked for a show of hands as to who was alumnae, former parents, board members etc. And there was a large sea of hands! So wonderful that so many friends and former Baobab & Akpokli members were with us. A traditional set by Baobab Youth kicked off the show, and was bumped up a notch by our wonderful guests Dominic Donkor and Prosper Adjetey! Pieces included Gota, Fume Fume, and Kpatsa. I had a great time joining Prosper and the dancers for Kpatsa! Dave Hennessy & Ari wowed the crowd with their Kitikpo routine, followed by our senior members in a playful Hatsiatsia. Two E.T Mensah highlife tunes ended the first set, where the youth were joined by horns and guitars form Carleton U Music, as well as the incredible Kofi Ackah and his band, Quando Harrison, Kobby Dolly & Wagner Pierre Pembe. We put a traditional Kpanlogo in the middle, leading into the groovy Mee Bei Obaba.

The dancing was just beginning, and in the second half, the temperature rose even more with a wicked highlife set featuring songs by the late Jewel Ackah, played with incredible energy and groove by Kofi Ackah and band, with Carleton Music Students, and Prosper & Dominic. Many members of the Ghanaian community in Ottawa were in attendance, dancing and singing along to all the familiar lyrics! So much fun was had!

Thank you to all who made this event such a success!

The Awesome Baobab Board of Directors: Evie Gray (chair), Kerry Gogush Cule, Dave Hennessy, Dalton Holloway, Nadine Powers, Cathy Sandiford

Hayley de Bie • Rory Magill • Petr Cancura John Rosefield • Mike GiambardinoDave’s Drum Shop • Carleton University SSAC MusicSekerka Design • Merge Print and DesignFrançois Desrochers • Marc Lepage • Ken HoffmanJane MacDonaldCity of Ottawa Cultural Funding • Ottawa Community FoundationTonight’s volunteers • Our generous donors over the years!

See you on June 6 for our final concert with Kwasi Dunyo and Ottawa Choirs!

All these awesome photos courtesy of Marc Lepage! You can find him at :

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Highlife Time


October 2nd 2019

Two-time Juno Winner, drummer Kofi Ackah will join Baobab Youth for “Highlife Time” the first concert in our 25th Anniversary season, on Saturday November 2 at St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts. Kofi comes from the legendary Ackah family in Ghana. His father, Jewel Ackah, was a founder of the popular highlife music genre. As a teenager, Kofi joined his father’s band as a percussionist and travelled to entertain Ghana’s president. Ackah was the drummer of the 2005 Juno Award-winning band African Guitar Summit, regarded by some as the best African music band in Canada. He played Canada’s Live 8 concert, sharing the stage with the likes of Bryan Adams and Neil Young. He currently performs with the Okavango African Orchestra which also won the Juno award for best World Music album in 2017. Ottawa audiences will remember him well as the drummer in the Mighty Popo Band. For this special project, Kofi will be bringing two members of his late father’s highlife band, keyboardist Quando Harrison and bassist Kobby Dolly. The highlife band will be augmented by a student horn section from Carleton University’s Music program and longtime Baobab friends and teachers, Dominic Donkor and Prosper Adjetey, both former members of the Ghana National Dance Ensemble.

In short, this will be an all-star evening, that will get the audience grooving and dancing, and help kick off Baobab Community’s 25th and farewell season! Concert starts at 7:30pm

The evening will begin at 6pm with a special vernissage and vintage poster sale, featuring the fantastic archival poster art of Baobab’s graphic artist, John Sekerka. Cash bar in Brigid’s well.

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Rhythm Trek 2019

It is with mixed feelings I write about the last Rhythm Trek camp for Baobab. Our first camp was about 2007, well into our history (Baobab was founded in 1995). Here are a few photos from the first few camps.

These camps have been a tremendous amount of work, but also SO rewarding…offering ways to learn new repertoire, recruit new members to our yearly programs, provide mentoring opportunities for our older students, give context to the music through art projects, traditional Ghanaian food celebration and just drum, dance and sing for HOURS on end. That is something we rarely have time for in our busy North American lives. Thank you to all who have contributed over the years: Rory, Gaelen, Maureen, Natalie, Eloise, Dominic, Prosper, Nani, Dalton, Dave, Nadine, parents, friends, and student volunteers. You have made this a unique and powerful experience for so many young people.

Today we had our open house (after a fabulous Ghanaian lunch) and performed four wonderful pieces; “Pete Pete”, an excerpt from “Adzogbo”, the Zulu “Thula Klizeo” and the drumming, dancing and singing of “Bobobo”. What a great crew!

We also paid tribute to our wonderful volunteers: Dave, board member and alum from the VERY early years, Donovan and Kieran, Baobab Youth members who volunteered for the first time this week! And the amazing Quinn, who marked this week as her 10th camp!!! Started a as camper and moved seamlessly into mentoring the young ones. Quinn, Donovan and Kieran are all in the youth performers and bring their leadership to that group. They worked so hard this week, and we are so proud of them!

Here are a few more pics from this fantastic week. Thank you to all our donors who made this opportunity possible for our subsidized students. My heart is full….now on to the 25th & farewell season. -Kathy

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Black Sheep Sankofa!

We had a great show yesterday at the famous Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec situation on the beautiful Gatineau river. A longstanding tradition at Baobab, we have played there every year since we began in 1995. We had guests Rory Magill and Dominic Donkor perform with us. Rory leading the group in the northern Ghanaian piece Takai, and Dominic taking the lead for Danse Guerriere, Kpanlogo and a very spirited Fume Fume! The group was a fabulous cohesive unit, displaying the fruits of a full season.

Our final show of the season is also the show that we say goodbye to members of the group that are moving on. Sankofa is the 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. This year we said goodbye to Alistair who has been with the group since he was 6 or 7 years old. A veteran of our summer camp, Rhythm Trek, our ROOTS class, and for the last few seasons, our youth group. We wish him well! Alumnae are also encouraged to come out to this show and we had a surprise dance floor appearance by two alumnae from Baobab’s former Adult group Akpokli. They still got the moves!

A great way to end the season! Special kudos to Dave Hennessy, Board member, alum and youth coach! Dave has been a huge help this season in all aspects of Baobab’s programming. Thanks also to Baobab’s Board of Directors and our finance manager Hayley! Team Awesome is an understatement! See you at our Rhythm Trek Camp in August!

Baobab Youth Performers 2018-19
with Kathy Armstrong, Dave Hennessy and Dominic Donkor
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Gahu Project & Tour

After our performance at the Kitchener Market

Just back from a wonderful four-day tour to Kitchener-Waterloo with Baobab Youth, Here are some media links:

Check out this short video

….and some CBC coverage

At the Wilfrid Laurier Residence building where we stayed.
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Had a great time last night at the Wooden Beats Concert! Baobab Youth Performers were joined by Tine Rufaro Marimba Band for a couple of sets of West and Southern African music. We did a couple of collaborative pieces, layering melodic and rhythmic beats of overlapping twos, threes, and fours. Very fun! The intimate, funky Kildare room at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts made for a very special energy in the room. A great turnout for the concert and a successful silent auction made this a real success for our organization! Big thanks to the Baobab Board of Directors, Hayley de Bie, Rory Magill and all the parent volunteers for their hard work! At the event, with the help of our alumnae, we also launched our 2019-2020 Season which will be the 25th and farewell season, (see previous blog post). More details on that coming soon…What a special evening it was all around!

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