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Galen’s Gap Year at Osu Children’s Library

Galen Kiva, a recent Baobab Youth graduate, is an independent videographer, photographer, and traveler from Wakefield, Quebec. He spent two months in the Korle Gonno Community Library this past spring in Ghana, as part of his gap year after high school. He also visited all of the Osu Children’s Libraries in Ghana, documenting the stories of staff, students, and children through the medium of video and photography. Here is an account of his recent solo adventures in Ghana (if you can ever consider yourself being solo in Ghana).

I was first introduced to Kathy Knowles and her fantastic organization when Vivian Amanor came to Ottawa in early 2017. I was part of a West African drumming group called Baobab Youth Performers, our group specialized in the drum, dance, and song of Ghana. We had the chance to attend an event put on for donors and friends of the OCLF, contributing in our own with a cultural performance to welcome Vivian to our lovely country.


My next encounter with the OCLF, was when I visited Ghana in 2017 with the Baobab Youth Performers where we spent 3 weeks touring around the country. We visited multiple cultural sites, but we also had the amazing privilege to visit two of the OCLF’s libraries, the Nima Learning Centre, and the Goi Community Library. It was on our visit to the Nima Centre, that I was introduced to Martin Legend, the fantastic theatre director of the Kathy Knowles Theatre Company. We hit it off immediately, and he told me that the libraries, including the Nima Library and Learning Centre, offer volunteer opportunities. And I immediately knew what I was doing for my following gap year!


Fast forward to May 2018, I was coming off a 2-month backpacking tour of Europe, flying above the Saharan desert on my way to Accra, unsure of what my two months at the Korle Gonno library held in store for me. But boy, was I sure in for a treat!

I spent the next two months living atop the Korle Gonno Community Library on the fourth floor of the building in a quaint apartment with Kwabena, my roommate. Kwabena is the arts director at the Korle Gonno Library, and he also goes around to a selection of the OCLF’s libraries to teach cultural dance to the youth who frequent the libraries. With our shared passion for the arts, we quickly formed a bond that continued to strengthen throughout my stay and blossomed into a truly beautiful brotherhood.

The Korle Gonno Community Library rises up above the fishing community of Korle Gonno, and provides anyone who makes the four-story climb to the top of the building, with a stunning view of the endless Atlantic Ocean. The other side of the building provided a view of the spanning corrugated rooftops of Korle Gonno with downtown Accra rising up in the hazy distance. A compound of schools was situated behind the library, which provided us with a seemingly non-stop flow of children, and a bustling environment, supplying a nurturing, safe environment for anybody who walk through our doors.

It was a beautiful experience to be a part of aiding children and students foster their love for reading, giving themselves the tools to improve their future and seek opportunities that may not even be a consideration without the benefits of literacy. But I knew that I wanted to leave my own impact on this organization and everyone who has been touched by Kathy Knowles, and that was through my cinematography. So halfway through my stint in Ghana, I departed on a mission to capture the story of the OCLF, interviewing as many librarians, staff, children, students, government officials, anyone I could get my hands on who had been impacted by the incredible reach of the OCLF. And what a journey it turned out to be.As a result of undertaking this project, I had the incredible privilege to speak with some of the most fantastic, and compassionate souls that I have ever met in my lifetime. Individuals who were working with so little, yet had done so much for their communities to provide it’s youth with better futures and opportunities. It was an eye-opening experience, that taught me what it means to be truly compassionate and how I can leave a positive impact in my own community.

What I have learnt during my time in Ghana will stay with me forever, and the people who I encountered who showed me nothing but warmth and love, sharing their culture and time with me with such open hearts. I cannot recommend volunteering with the OCLF enough, this organization is filled with so much good, it is contagious. To have the privilege to work alongside individuals like Joana, Vivian, Martin and Kwabena was a truly beautiful experience that I will never forget. I hope I can encourage someone else to set out on this adventure and to help in their own way!

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Rhythm Trek Week!

Fantastic week at Rhythm Trek! We had 16 campers, 6 youth mentors and one of our own as assistant director. Drumming and dancing with Dominic Donkor on Nagla and myself on Atsiagbekor. These kids and youth knocked it out of the park! Very challenging material this week. Also had a blast on our water & park day, and our always special celebration lunch with Dongo Dongo Rory. Campers made some wonderful picture frame art that now holds a pic of themselves with their favourites instrument. Thanks especially to all the mentors and staff…we could not do it without you!


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Friday night drumming!

This season marked the return of our adult programming after a five year hiatus. Our new format invites adults of all ages and levels of experience to join us for monthly Friday night drumming workshops. Drop-in or book several. More than 90 people took advantage of this flexible and inclusive format and our attendance ranged from 15 -40 on any given Friday. Each month was a different teacher and piece in the wonderful repertoire of Ghanaian drumming. Instructors included myself, Kwasi Dunyo, Nani Agbeli, Dominic Donkor and Baobab alum Dave Hennessy. Great to see old friends and new. Here are pics of the first (above) and last (below) groups….September and June. Looking forward to next season already!

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Black Sheep goodbyes




We finished the season with our annual Sankofa show at the Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield. A chance to move and groove with all our members and a few alumnae as well. So great to see past members Sarah-Jane, Dalton, Ben, Anna and Amanda again, and have them join us onstage! We opened the concert with our South African Gumboot routine, and closed with a participatory Kpanlogo led by Quinn. In between we had Danse Guerriere, Kpatsa led by Clare, Fume Fume with lead dancer Rory, and our Ghana 2017 pieces, Gota and Kinka followed by a Gahu. So fun and so youth oriented. Our Sankofa ceremony gave us a chance to say goodbye to those leaving the group . Based on the Ghanaian adinkra symbol, whose meaning asks us to look back at our past as a means of moving forward. This year we say goodbye to Olivia, Magda, Emma, Rory, Sophie, Polly, and Lydia who is moving with her family to B.C. In fact the whole Holland family was given a Sankofa recognition for all their contributions to Baobab over the last twenty-years. We can’t thank them enough! Ian, Eloise, Ben and Lydia: performers, sewers, photographers, board members and general volunteers and supporters. Safe journey, miagadodo!  Here are a few photos from the show, thanks to Ian Holland and Robin Burgener.


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Harps and Drums

Our BEATS & EATS concert last night had a magical quality to it. The stage of the First Unitarian Congregation is backed by walls of windows overlooking the Ottawa river. As the concert progressed, the sun was setting through the tree branches behind us, darkening the background,  as our  stage lights gradually illuminated the performers and instruments. The classical harps and Ghanaian drums looked magnificent together, as if the two styles had been collaborating for years!

The pre-concert reception featured Ghanaian food treats from Mugena, and guests milled around chatting over some great African tunes, some reconnecting from past Baobab years,  some from our adult drum class the night before and many others!

Our guests, the Ottawa Youth Orchestra Academy Intermediate Harp Ensemble, led by director Michelle Gott, opened the show with some of their group repertoire. The melodic and percussive sounds of the harps were a great way to get us started.

After some creative bell playing in Hatsiatsia, Baobab Youth joined forces with the amazing Kwasi Dunyo, our special guest artist for the evening. Kwasi and myself played off each other on the two lead drums of Kinka, while the youth enthusiastically drummed responses and created a fun groove for all. This was one of the pieces the group learned in Ghana on the Footsteps to Ghana tour 2017, so it was wonderful to recreate that environment with Kwasi.

A highlight was collaborating with the harp ensemble. We envisioned  the harps as trees when we performed our Bell Forest piece, highlighting sounds from the Ghana rainforest, including contributions from the harps. Next we added drums and axatse to their beautiful River Right Rhumba piece, composed by Laura Zaerr,  channeling the sounds of the kora, a West African gourd harp.

The Baobab Youth shone in the next couple of stick drumming pieces, Gota (a favourite study piece in Ghana) and Danse Guerriere.We brought Master Drummer Kwasi Dunyo back for the final set, Zigi, Gahu and our finale Kpanlogo which featured alumnae and audience participation. A totally fun and beautiful evening!

Many thanks to the Baobab Board of Directors, Evie Gray, Kerry Gogush Cule, Tanis Stoliar, Dalton Holloway, Sam Bonti-Ankomah, Nadine Powers and Cathy Sandiford. We also couldn’t have done it without parent volunteers, as well as Rory Magill, Hayley de Bie and Dave Hennessy. Special thanks to Ian Holland for all these photos.

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Rhythm Café

Yesterday Baobab Community came together for our annual fundraiser, Rhythm Café, a fun afternoon of music and dance performances, food and drink and some fabulous Ghana inspirations at the Silent Auction table. Our ROOTS class performed Kpatsa and a stone passing game with help from volunteer Ethan. many of those students only started drumming with us a few weeks ago! Baobab Youth performed several pieces, some  of which we worked on last summer in Ghana. Quinn led Kpanlogo on lead drum for the first time!

Caribbean Fit Fete founder Tarrah Mauricette had everyone on their feet for some fantastic moves. Incredible energy and enthusiasm! Definitely a good idea after the array of cupcakes available to everyone. Our other special guest for the afternoon was the World Music Orchestra for Kids, a diverse group of young singers and percussionists under the direction of Alicia Borisonik of World Folk Music Ottawa. Their performance was inspiring and showed the power of music for peace and healing.








Thanks to Baobab Youth Alum Dave for doing sound, all the volunteers and bakers, drum transporters,  and especially the hardworking Baobab Board of Directors along with Hayley de Bie for their organization and set-up! A great community event, that supports our programs.  Many thanks to parent Ian Holland for most of these pics!!

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Giving Tuesday

Did You know?

Over its twenty-year history, Baobab has quietly offered subsidized spots in our programming, so that children and youth who may not have the financial means can participate in our classes, camp and performing group. Most years the cost to us is approximately $5000, and we rely on donations to fund this. Some of these young people have stayed with us for several years, in fact two of our subsidized students recently went to Ghana with the youth group this past July, due to some generous donations in the community. Our subsidized participants are making outstanding contributions at Baobab, as well as in their local community. Investing in students like this is exactly the goal for our program, as it feeds back positively into the Ottawa community. The students we subsidize are identified based on their need for economic assistance in order to participate in these kinds of activities, as well as their interest and potential engagement. This is our philosophy of outreach….bringing students together who may not otherwise connect with each other.

“Drumming makes me feel tingly inside and it makes me feel energetic and excited. It also makes me feel happy!” –participant age 9

“I liked the whole experience- the exposure to different culture, musicality, friendship and the requirement for working together.” -Parent

Please consider becoming a donor to help us with these costs. Donations can me made easily through Canada Helps  or by contacting us directly at (613)729-0987.

You can also designate Baobab Tree as your United Way Campaign recipient (all you need is our charity number 86158 7095 RR0001)

Our annual Fall Donor Campaign is well underway, with a particular focus on Giving Tuesday November 28th. Thank you for your support! 

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Batik & ROOTS

In keeping with our tradition of rounding out our drum and dance classes with some visual arts, the Fall ROOTS class had a wonderful batik session with Eloise Holland recently. Using traditional Adinkra symbols that she made into stamps, the kids used hot wax to create the resist on cloth, and then dipped them into the vat of their dye choice. A couple weeks later and the results are gorgeous! We will be displaying them at our ROOTS Open House December 6 from 6:45-7:15pm, where the ROOTS kids will perform some pieces they have been working on. This group has accomplished a lot this Fall, including two performances already. Their energy and enthusiasm is amazing.


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Nani Agbeli Residency

We had a great weekend working with the amazing drummer and dancer Nani Agbeli who joined us in Ottawa, travelling from his full-time position as Director of West African Arts  at the California Institute for the Arts.  He worked with a group of 30 adults at our monthly Friday night class, connecting the five parts of Gahu, his excellent teaching making it possible to connect so many people and syncopations.

On Saturday we held a Beat Retreat for our Youth Performers, a four-hour immersion into the music of Tokwoe and Gahu. Technique, style, arrangements were all worked on, however the main focus and success was getting these teens and pre-teens to work on their onstage presence and energy ! Not easy but worth it! Nani made sure to compliment those working hard and told one of our youth he would pay $1000 to see him perform, he was grooving so well. We finished with a dinner from Ghana House Cuisine, a local favourite. Akbesia,  Nani, see you back here next season for a big show!

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Drumming & Health

Our ROOTS class and Baobab Youth Performers were guests at the recent All Staff meeting for the Centre for Health Promotion at the Public Health Agency of Canada. We were the finale of the day, each group performing a piece for the audience, Kpatsa and Gota. I then spoke about my research on the links between drumming and positive mental, social and physical health that I did with the students at Carleton University. The 
power of drumming  to engage us emotionally and connect us to each other is evident is all we do! We finished the segment with an interactive Bell Forest, wandering through the audience with quiet sounds and rhythms. Always fun when our two groups get to perform together….and even better when we get to share the important message about drumming and healthy individuals and communities!

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