Yaw Daniel Okyere's ensemble at Mampong Asante, Ghana.

The University of the Philippines kekeli ensemble.

The University of the Philippines kekeli ensemble.

The University of the Philippines: Eating Healthy.

To view videos of kekeli drum and dance please go to royal hartigan's youtube channel.

From my travels, teaching, and residencies there have grown up Kekeli African music and dance ensembles in San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area, California, USA; the University of the Philippines, Quezon City, Philippines; and the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Dartmouth in North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, USA. These three groups are composed of committed people whose love of African music, dance, and culture is a central part of their lives. Some members join my annual study trips to Ghana, West Africa, and all the musicians and dancers form a sister- and brotherhood open to celebrating and sharing the great traditions of Africa with others. My tours as a jazz musician in China and Japan, including workshops and demonstrations of adapting African musical elements into African American jazz styles, have given me the motivation to expand our African music and dance ensemble family into those countries as well.

Each Kekeli ensemble performs the traditional music and dance of West African peoples, including processional, warrior, court, social, harvest, and recreational dance drumming from the Eve, Fon, Asante, Ga, Dagbamba, Dagara, Ahanta, Nzema, among others. We are honored to perform with master artists from Ghana, including Abraham Kobena Adzenyah, Kwabena Boateng, C.K. Ladzekpo, Attah Poku, Kofi Boame, Ernest Dumfeh, Kwaakye Obeng, Emmanuel Kwaku Agbeli, Helen Abena Mensah, Samuel Elikem Nyamuame, Bernard Woma, Sulley Imoro, Daniel Annan Sackey, Yaw Daniel Okyere, Joseph Ayitey, Lydia Mankattah, and Solomon Odamenty.

When I began learning African music with my teachers, Freeman Kwadzo Donkor and Abraham Kobena Adzenyah, during the 1980s at Wesleyan University (Connecticut, USA), I felt instinctively that the music and dance were life, spirit, ancestors, beyond the everyday world, going to another time and place, at the deepest level. The path of learning has grown into teaching the music as best I can as a non-African. My first reluctance to do this comes from an understanding that African music expresses culture and lifeways I do not and perhaps cannot know; also, the history of colonial, and present neo-colonial genocidal external forces that has plagued African peoples since the 1400s made me sensitive to the appearance of an outsider approaching the music and culture. An outgrowth of these factors is the history of cultural and musical imperialism, in which non-Africans purchase drums and use African elements – songs, instruments, dance movements, dress, among other things – in a self-centered way that does not honor the people and their traditions. With my teachers’ permission I gradually learned to share what I have learned with others through teaching, performance, research, recordings, and publications, but, if possible, always with the presence and leadership of a culture bearer. In concerts or any public presentations, we perform with one or more African artists, or ask permission to play if there are none available.

It is to our teachers that any credit for the music we make goes, and these master artists form a ‘gallery of greats’ in my eyes: Freeman Kwadzo Donkor, Abraham Kobena Adzenyah, Kwabena Boateng, Godwin Kwasi Agbeli, C. K. Ladzekpo, Kwaakye Obeng, Emmanuel Kwaku Agbeli, Victor Agbeli, Odartey Kwashie, Yaotsa Agbeli, Aziz Botchway, Agbekor Sodzedo, Mary Agama, Helen Abena Mensah, Bernard Woma, Sulley Imoro, Daniel Annan Sackey, Yaw Daniel Okyere, Attah Poku, Kofi Boame, Ernest Dumfeh, Gideon Folie Midawo Alorwoyie, and the great scholar who is an inspiration to everyone in African music and culture, Professor J. H. Kwabena Nketia of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana at Legon.

The African Drum and Dance communities at UMass Dartmouth, University of the Philippines, and San Francisco/San Jose Bay Area, California, encompass a mixture of people who feel a deep connection to the history and lifeways of African peoples. African music and culture must be understood on their own terms, from a traditional perspective. This expression is a spiritual experience that connects people from all cultural backgrounds with each other, themselves, the natural environment, ancestors, and the creator. Performing African music and dance creates an egalitarian community of learners from all backgrounds, genders, age groups, cultures, races, and levels of musical experience. Our groups are open to all, regardless of musical ability, and our only admission requirement is an open heart and mind and a willingness to work hard. Our mission is to learn, promote, and share the music, song, dance, and culture of the peoples of Africa and the African Diaspora throughout the world.