Return of the Drummers

The West African drumming group that wowed Juneau crowds three years ago is slated to perform at JDHS this weekend

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2001

When the African drumming and dance group WOFA performed in Juneau three years ago, Shar Fox signed up for a drum workshop. Her teachers, she discovered, spoke no English and she doesn't speak French or the Guinean dialect Soso.

But it didn't matter, she said.

"It was an experience of being able to communicate through music, which is quite fun," she said.

Friday night the 10 members of WOFA will communicate through music and dance in a performance at Juneau-Douglas High School. Their performance will include a variety of traditional, festive and ritual songs and dances, as well as original music and dance composed by the ensemble. Using a variety of West African percussion instruments, the group combines traditional dance with staged showmanship.

WOFA in Juneau

Performance: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Juneau-Douglas High School Auditorium.

Advance tickets are available at all Juneau bookstores, $20, $15 seniors and students, $65 for a family; all tickets $2 more at the door.

Free demonstration: noon Friday in the State Office Building atrium.

Drumming Workshop:

1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Juneau-Douglas High School bandroom, $12, bring a drum.

African dance workshop: 5-7 p.m. Saturday at Juneau Dance Unlimited studio in Scottish Rite Temple. $12.

For more information: Call Juneau Arts and Humanities Council to register and for information, 586-2787.

"It's an interesting mix of traditional rhythms and contemporary interpretation," Fox said. "They are just so dynamic and passionate. They throw themselves completely into their drumming and dance. It just wakes something up inside."

WOFA (which means "come together" in the Guinean Soso dialect) is sponsored by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. Sybil Davis of the arts council said French choreographer, producer and designer Francois Kokelaere helped the performers adapt their traditional dance to the stage.

Kokelaere has worked with the group since 1987. Davis said he recently helped WOFA redesign the show and the performance Friday will be different from the 1998 show. Davis said she was happy to learn the group was touring again.

"They were very well received and people didn't get in that wanted to see them last time," Davis said.

WOFA is booked for a statewide tour which offered a good chance to bring them to Juneau, she said. The group performed in Ketchikan on Wednesday and will travel to Homer, Seward, Valdez, Kodiak and Fairbanks after the Juneau appearance.

Juneau drummer T.J. Merry saw WOFA's last performance and, like Shar Fox, he also took the drumming class. Merry, 13, has played drums since he was 5 years old. He plans to take the upcoming drum and dance workshops and already has his ticket to the concert.

"We play the same kinds of drums; that's one of the things I was really pleased with," he said. "I like the dancing - I'm also a dancer. The drumming was so together; it was good to see them so organized."

The group is traveling with an amazing assortment of exotic instruments, Davis said. The djembe, dounoun, ydunun and sangban are the more familiar hide-covered, goblet-shaped or cylindrical wooden and metal instruments. More unusual is the boxy sikko frame drum, covered with goat skin, the log-like kryins slot drum, the marimba-like balafone and the wassakhoumba, a set of discs strung on a curved piece of wood, shaken to create a high-pitched sound.

Merry has performed with the Juneau drumming group African Rain and now plays with another percussion group, Rhythm Method. Fox, also a member of both groups, said when WOFA came to Juneau in 1998, members of African Rain made dinner for the visiting Africans.

"We made food and brought it to them and ended up visiting even though we didn't speak the same language," Fox said. "There was a lot of laughing."

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