Krumping in the African Diaspora — What Goes Around Comes Around

Krump dancing in Liberia West Africa

The African American style of dance known as krumping is sweeping Liberia, West Africa.

Sometimes it seems the arc of history bends right back to where it started. Take the West African nation of Liberia. Given its longstanding ties to the United States — it was, after all, founded by freed American slaves — it should come as no surprise that Liberians are well versed in American culture. Even so, yesterday’s story on National Public Radio (NPR) about the popularity there of an American style of dance known as krumping is remarkable.

Why? To start, krumping isn’t just an American art form, it is African American. And although krumping ‘battles’ are often seen as expressions of pure aggression, the picture is more complicated. K.R.U.M.P. is in fact a bacronym for ‘Kingdom Radically Uplifted Mighty Praise.’ Many of its herky-jerky movements and cold-eyed stares were inspired by the Holy Ghost Spirit possessions that are common in African American church services. And scholars have traced this distinctly animistic take on Christian worship to — you guessed it — West Africa, in particular the voodoo trance and possession traditions that originated there.

In other words, there is still no such thing as a cultural tabula rasa. Like the recent explosion of hip-hop across Africa, krumping’s popularity in Liberia shows that culture has its own inertia and destiny. What goes around comes around.

Amazing Griot Singer Performs for Africa Study Abroad Group

While eating lunch at the Afia Beach Hotel in the capital city of Accra this past summer, some students in our Study in Ghana group noticed a group of musicians at a nearby table. One of them had what looked like a kora, a traditional stringed instrument commonly found in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, The Gambia and other countries in West Africa. This man turned out to be none other than Adama Dembele de Zoumba, a well-known griot (master musician/vocalist/storyteller) from Burkina Faso READ MORE

Studying West African Dance: At a Traditional Funeral in Ghana

Getting dressed for traditional funeral in Ghana

Dance artist and summer 2012 Ghana participant Leah Moriarty getting dressed for a traditional funeral in the village of Kopeyia, Ghana.

The following guest post comes from Leah Moriarty, a dance artist and educator from New Haven, CT. She recently returned from the ThisWorldMusic/UMass summer study abroad in Ghana program.

I have spent the last ten years attempting to wrap my head and body around West African dance. It is the only aesthetic that has ever spoken to me and made my body feel at home.

I felt I could never consider myself an African dancer for two reasons: READ MORE

ZUMIX African Drumming Ensemble Rocks Fenway Park

ZUMIX African Drumming Ensemble performs at Fenway Park

Dressed in traditional African garb, the ZUMIX African Drumming Ensemble performs ‘Gahu,’ a style of music from Ghana, for the crowd gathered at Fenway Park.

Had a blast performing with the ZUMIX Youth African Drumming Ensemble at Fenway Park this past Saturday. We were invited by Northeastern University to perform as part of their annual Family Day.

ZUMIX’s unique approach to youth development is evident in its Mission: Empowered youth who use music to make strong positive change in their lives, their communities, and the world. With kids like these, is it any wonder that ZUMIX won a 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House? READ MORE

Study in Africa Photo Blog: Ghana Winter 2012

Boba drum playing in Kopeyia, Ghana

Miles Arntzen (left) plays the boba drum accompanied by his instructor, Elike.

Over the years, one of the things I’ve loved most about leading the ThisWorldMusic/UMass Amherst Study in Africa program is getting to know the participants. Sure, studying African music and dance is a thrill, but it’s the people, not just the rhythms, that stick with me long after I’ve returned.

On the most recent winter study abroad trip in Ghana, West Africa, we had a seminary student from Indianapolis, Brent Walsh, who, as luck would have it, turned out to be a professional photographer. And who studies abroad in a place as visually stunning as Ghana without bringing along a camera?

Here are 5 highlights from Brent’s inspiring photos, each representing a different aspect of what it’s like to study in Africa. READ MORE

Top 10 Things to Pack for Study Abroad in Ghana

Participants on the ThisWorldMusic/UMASS summer Study in Ghana program. Pack smart, stay happy!

With the ThisWorldMusic/UMASS summer 2012 Study in Ghana program on the horizon, I thought I’d share some packing tips we give trip participants. Although a standard packing list is easy to come by, these 10 lesser known items are must haves for anyone planning to study in Ghana: READ MORE

February News: Ghana Study Abroad Pics, Learn African Drumming at BSO

Study abroad in Ghana

Drumming at the Dagbe Cultural Centre in the scenic coastal village of Kopeyia, Ghana.

Happy fall! Our February e-newsletter went out last week and includes links to the following:

  • NEW Ghana Study Abroad Photos
  • Learn African Drumming at Boston Symphony Hall
  • Facebook Sweepstakes Winner Announced
  • ZUMIX Wins White House Award
  • Featured Blog: Is Beyoncé the Etta James of Our Time?

To receive email updates from us in the future, including news and info on African drumming workshops and Ghana study abroad programs, subscribe at the top right of this page.

Too much commitment? You can read the February newsletter here, or check out past issues:

Thanks for reading and, as always, keep it funky!

Is Beyoncé the Etta James of Our Time?

Etta James

Would a young Etta James make it in today’s music industry?

With the sad news last week of Etta James’ passing, I found myself looking through early photos of this great lady and wondering: “Would a young Etta make it in today’s music industry?” Or, put another way, could an average looking woman in 2012 become a pop icon and sex symbol based on the strength of her voice alone? And since my post on Justin Bieber and Esperanza Spalding garnered so many fervent responses, I figured this time around I would use as my foil Beyoncé—an iconic black female R&B singer if ever there was one—who played Etta in 2008’s Cadillac Records.

The problem, of course, is that ‘B,’ as Beyoncé is known to fans like me, is both good looking and good sounding. Or is she? The truth is that, in our era of sci-fi-like post production sound processing, most pop recordings have become so sanitized that it is nearly impossible to know the true, intimate sound of a singer’s voice. READ MORE

ZUMIX African Drumming Ensemble: Winter Showcase Performance

Had a great time performing with my student African Drumming ensembles last week at ZUMIX, the community music school in inner city East Boston where I started the African Drumming program in 2007. ZUMIX has grown a lot since then, recently winning the 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the White House.

Check out these three videos, the first featuring the ZUMIX beginning African Drumming Ensemble performing an adapted version of Gahu, a recreational style of music from the Ewe people of Ghana, West Africa:

And here’s the ZUMIX intermediate African Drumming Ensemble performing Atsiagbekor (a k a Agbekor), an Ewe war piece: READ MORE

Win A Year’s Supply of Fair Trade Chocolate from Ghana, West Africa

Cocoa farmer and Divine Chocolate part owner Adwoa Asianaa. Photo Courtesy of Kim Naylor.

Join ThisWorldMusic to support West African culture and development! ‘Like’ TWM on Facebook before January 5, 2012, for a chance to win a year’s supply of Divine Chocolate from Ghana. After entering, please help spread the word about this great company by following the prompt to share with friends.

To enter, go to:

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