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The seventh annual West African Highlife Concert Saturday night was an energetic collection of music, singing and dancing.
Directed by Kwasi Ampene, associate professor of musicology, the ensemble featured over 30 CU students covering a gamut of roles from musicians to singers to dancers. In addition to the students, the ensemble was also joined by the West African Percussion Trio.
The concert began a little after 7:30 p.m. on April 21. Kwasi Ampene and Ernest Twum of the Percussion Trio kicked off the performance with a telling of “Ayan,” an Akan proverb told through spoken word and a drum.
After “Ayan,” the stage lights came on and the ensemble took stage in brightly colored and elaborately designed clothing to begin the song “Sana,” a work of Congolese superstar Kanda Bongo Man.
“You are about to embark on a musical journey to a unique and diverse continent,” Ampene said before the song began.
Almost as soon as the performance had begun, audience members were out of their seats and into the aisles, making their way up to the base of the stage. They were joined by many more over the course of the night. People of all ages, from students, to parents and grandparents, to young children, made up the large group crowded at the foot of the stage.
Each song was highly energetic, and a constantly flashing lighting scheme added to the electricity in the air. The dancers and musicians were in high spirits, as was Ampene, who repeatedly thrust his microphone towards the audience to encourage their participation.
In between a few ensemble songs, the Percussion Trio took the opportunity to display their skills. Paa Kow’s mastery of the traditional drum set, Atta Addo’s skill with the jembe, kpanlogo and gome drums, and Ernest Twum’s clever use of auxiliary percussion created an intricate wash of polyrhythm and coordination.
Though he sang and led the ensemble for most of the concert, Ampene took a moment during one of the songs to perform a keytar solo. He also played the drums and other percussion pieces here and there.
According to the concert program, the ensemble’s revenue totals around $20,000 that is covered by ticket sales and donations, as well as T-shirt sales.
“If you want to help support us, we have T-shirts, and we want you to buy ten,” Ampene said with a grin.
The performance was in celebration of the 50 year anniversary of Ghana’s independence from the British. The ending song, “Ghana Success,” was a celebration of that independence.
After the concert had finished, members of the ensemble jumped off of the stage to mingle with the audience.
“It was a blast,” said Carter Smith, a music education and performance major who played in the ensemble. “The music is very uplifting.”
Smith, who has been with the ensemble since the semester began, also said he had a great deal of fun working with the other members of the ensemble, both new and returning. He added that the crowd gave some very positive reinforcement.
When asked to compare this year’s Highlife concert to last year’s, Ampene responded, “Every year we say, ‘this was the best,’ so this year is the best.”