West African music event brings song and dance to Durham library

Stori (left) playing an African drum with Appiagyei. (Staff photo by Madison Walls)

A library’s basement meeting room, with its white walls and harsh fluorescent lighting, seems like an unlikely place to find a celebration of any kind, let alone one of African song and dance. Yet in such a room last Friday morning, traditional West African dancing, singing and drumming brought the place to life.

Kwabena Osei Appiagyei, a Ghanaian musician, led the workshop on African music and dance at the Stanford L. Warren Branch of the Durham County Library, located at 1201 Fayetteville St. Nearby day care centers brought small groups of children to the event, and about 20 children attended.

LeBrandi Johnson dancing. (Staff photo by Madison Walls)

LeBrandi Johnson dancing. (Staff photo by Madison Walls)

“We are taking a journey together to West Africa,” Appiagyei said to his audience. “Today, we are going to boogie!”

Appiagyei taught attendees dances, call-and-response songs and phrases in the Ghanaian language of Akan. Children played drums arranged in a semi-circle while Appiagyei and two others, McDaniel Roberts and LeBrandi Johnson, danced along. Appiagyei also gave a lesson on the different drums and other instruments used in West African music.

“I am a teacher, I teach music and dance,” Appiagyei said. “This is what I do.”

Appiagyei grew up in a family of musicians in Ghana, West Africa. He now lives in Durham and is the musical director for the African American Dance Ensemble. The Durham-based organization aims to preserve and share African and African-American dance traditions.

Appiagyei said that a major goal of the ensemble is to teach the public, especially young people, through workshops and performances.

“I educate and share traditions,” Appiagyei said. “I go to schools and community events and hold workshops so others can learn about Africa.”

Roberts, who performed with Appiagyei at the event, is a dancer with the African American Dance Ensemble. The Durham resident said he began studying theater and dance at a young age.

“The dance community is my life, and I love being able to share my passion for it,” Roberts said. “I can give back to the community by sharing the craft of music and theater with others.”

Annette Weir, a teacher at Little Faith Daycare in Durham, brought her class of 3-year-olds to the workshop. She said the day care takes its kids to educational or cultural events every week.

“This was wonderful because it had the children involved,” Weir said. “It got them dancing and participating.”

The event was part of the Durham County Library’s programming for Black History Month. Throughout the month of February, Durham County Library has hosted various programs highlighting the cultural and historical contributions of Africans and African-Americans.

The African music event was the first children’s program held at the Stanford L. Warren Branch since last August. Anna Cromwell, the library’s children services manager, said the branch took a break in hosting children’s programming when the former children’s librarian moved away.

“We’re going to have children’s programs four days a week from now on,” Cromwell said. “We’re hoping to incorporate regular, ongoing programming for this community.”

Cromwell wants Stanford L. Warren to be a center for learning and engagement with the community. She said she hopes that by expanding the programs they offer, residents will come to view the library as a community staple.

For information about upcoming events at the Stanford L. Warren Branch, visit https://durhamcountylibrary.org/location/warren/.

Appiagyei and Sylvia Cotton dancing together. (Staff photo by Madison Walls)

Appiagyei and Sylvia Cotton dancing together. (Staff photo by Madison Walls)


 For a printer-friendly version of this story, click here.