Notable dance troupe to deliver African rhythm to UALR
by Paige Buffington
It is said that when Bernard Woma was born in a small village in northwestern Ghana, his hands were clenched in fists that looked as if he were holding mallets used to play the gyil, a native musical instrument resembling a xylophone.
After consulting with a tribal elder, Woma’s father purchased his infant son a gyil. By the time Woma two years old, he was proficient in the instrument and on his way to fulfilling his life’s mission: sharing the rhythm and dance of his native Ghana with the world.
Today, Woma travels the globe performing and giving workshops with the Saakuma Dance Troupe, a group he organized to introduce his audiences to both traditional and contemporary music and dance from his native land. The musical troupe’s repertoire includes a range of spiritual, ceremonial, and contemporary African music and dance. Art observers and critics say the group’s performances are joyful, expressive and highly participatory.
“He’s a true ambassador of African music and culture,”
said Kara Mathews, UALR Diversity Programs Coordinator. She said, “His infectious spirit and obvious passion for his craft just light up audiences. His goal is not to just perform but to involve his audiences.”
While Woma has performed for prominent figures like Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and Queen Elizabeth II, his true passion is hands-on teaching of his native Ghanaian music and dance to normal, everyday people.
“He says his main goal is to teach, so his workshops are vitally important to him. They allow him to invite participants to drum and dance on stage with him and his troupe,” Matthews said. “When people actually start physically involving themselves in his world, the learning opportunities are multiplied.”
Woma was recently honored as the cultural resource person for President Barack Obama’s family when they visited Ghana. His recent appearances in the US include a performance with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in New York City, performances and teaching at New York’s “AXF: African Xylophone Festival”, the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, the Minnesota Orchestra, and numerous elementary schools, high schools and colleges.
Last year as part of Black History Month, Campus Life brought in Jabali Afrika, a music and dance troupe from Kenya.
Inclement weather postponed Woma’s concert scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 4 at UALR. Stay tuned for an update on when they might return.
For more information or updates on Woma’s concert, contact the Office of Campus Life at 501.569.3308.