Saakumu: Ghanaian dance troupe comes to Bennington

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BENNINGTON, VT. — All three elementary schools in Bennington got a taste of African culture this week, as the Saakumu Drum and Dance Team visited all the way from Ghana.

The group visited Monument Elementary on Thursday, Molly Stark School on Friday morning, and Bennington Elementary in the afternoon. On Friday evening, they performed a show at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Bennington for the community.

Saakumu means tradition, explained one of the members of the troupe to the students at Molly Stark, and the group lives up to that name, performing traditional songs and dances from every cultural group in Ghana. Band leader Bernard Woma, who has shared the stage with names such as Maya Angelou, Yo Yo Ma, and Glen Velez and has performed for Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth, and Barack Obama, good-naturedly told students that if they talked while he was talking, he would have them come up and dance all by themselves. He then asked students who wanted to dance to raise their hands, followed by students who did not want to dance. To those who said they didn't want to dance, Woma said he would have them dance first. "It's Africa!" he said, "When we perform, you don't just sit and watch!"

He also taught the students about West African instruments, such as the gyil, which is similar to a xylophone, and the talking drum, a hour-glass shaped drum with two heads connected by leather cords, so that the musician can manipulate the pitch of the notes to mimic human speech. After playing "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" on the drum, Woma asked the students, "Now you believe a drum can talk?"

The show was extremely participatory, with students being invited to come up and dance with the group.

Based out of Medie, Accra, Ghana, the troupe has performed at important governmental functions in their home country, as well as national and international music and dance festivals throughout West Africa.

The SDA has been designated as the official performing group at this year's National Festival of Art and Culture, the largest cultural festival in Ghana, according to the troupe's website, jumbierecords.com/saakumu.

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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