When Kpani Addy sits down to play his drums, he goes to a different place. It’s a place that resembles his beloved home country of Ghana, West Africa. Depending on which drums he’s playing, he gets into the rhythm with a far-away look. Or a half-smile that verges on laughter. Or he closes his eyes altogether.
“Drumming is the number one of my life,” he says. After spending time in Portland and around the Northwest since first coming to the U.S. in the 1980s, Addy has decided to make Hood River his home. He plans to continue teaching drumming and dance to children and youth, as he’s done in the Portland area and around Oregon since 1991 through Arts-in-Education, Head Start and other youth programs.
“As a teacher I have a great confidence and patience for my students and in the learning process,” says Addy, whose first name is prounounced “pawny,” the “k” being silent.
“I am able to give my students a feeling for the dance, the music and the traditional African culture as well as teach them the technical aspect of drumming and dancing.”
Addy was born into a “medicine house” or “house of drumming” in Ghana. His grandfather was a priest of the Ga people of coastal Ghana, and Addy grew up surrounded by the music and dance that accompanied his grandfather’s ritual ceremonies.
But in Ghana, music and dance were also intertwined with daily activities and chores.
“Everything we do, we put into our music,” he says. “Such as pounding fufui (potato), washing our clothes, farming, fishing or building. The movements and rhythm of our daily activities are used to create both the drum rhythms and the dances.”
Addy started dancing and playing the drum when he was a small child. He made his first drum when he was 11.
“In Ghana, the drum is not just wood and a stand,” he says. “The skin is not just skin. It’s alive. The wood is alive.” His elders taught him to “respect” the drum and “understand the nature of it” before beginning to play it.
Making his first drum made him “so happy,” Addy recalls.
“That’s something that made my life different,” he says. “That’s some kind of power. A drum can talk, it can call people names, it can say a lot.”
During a visit to Ghana last year, Addy organized a performance company called “Children of Ghana,” comprised of about 30 children and teens from ghettos who train and practice with skilled musicians and dancers. He continues to work with the troupe on extended visits home and hopes to raise money through a nonprofit organization to help the troupe and one day bring the young dancers to the U.S. to perform and teach.
Addy also has worked to develop similar youth troupes in Portland by teaching drumming and dance to at-risk youth.
“Drumming, music,” Addy says. “They keep you alive.”