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Obo Addy

January 15, 1936 - September 13, 2012
born in Accra, Ghana, composed during the Contemporary period
The musical traditions of Ghana have been explored and extended by Ghana-born and Seattle-based drummer, composer and bandleader Obo Addy. Together with his world beat band, Kukrudu, and traditional quartet, Okropong, Addy was one of Ghana's greatest musical ambassadors. A recipient of the prestigious national Heritage Fellowship Award by the National Endowment for the Arts, Addy toured extensively through the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Australia. The son of a Wonche priest and medicine man, Addy was exposed, as a youngster, to the rituals and traditions of the Ga people of Ghana. This included the drumming, dancing and singing that accompanied his father's work. Addy had been playing music since earliest memory. Although he began by playing bells at village rituals, he soon switched to the drums. Joining Joe Kelly's Band, at the age of eighteen, Addy learned to play and sing western pop music in theaters, hotels and night clubs in the capitol city of Accra. A year later, he joined the Builder's Brigade Band. In 1961, Addy joined the Farmers Council of Ghana, an organization dedicated to educating farmers through drama, music and cinema. The same year, Addy was inspired to present concerts of traditional music. The show, Edzo, was debuted at Accra Stadium. In 1962, Addy became assistant leader of the Farmers Band and master drummer and leader of the group's traditional unit. He remained with the group until 1966. Leaving the Farmers Band, in 1966, Addy formed a band to perform popular music from around the globe at the Continental Hotel. Two years later, he accepted an invitation to join the Ghana Broadcasting Band. In 1969, Addy formed a band, Anasi Krumian Soundz, the group group to exclusively use traditional Ghanaian instruments including the giri (African xylophone), Atentenben (bamboo flute), Whi (whistle) and calabash (rattles). The group performed in clubs, theaters and embassies and worked for the American peace Corps and Canadian Voluntary Service. At the same time, Addy studied, taught and performed traditional music of the Ewe, Ashanti, Fanti, Dagomba, Nafana, Konkomba and Ga people at the Arts Council of Ghana. The experience provided an opportunity to begin fusing traditional and contemporary African music. After touring in Israel, in June, 1972, with other members of the Arts Council, Addy formed a band, Oboade ("Ancient"), with his brothers. Following a successful performance at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, Addy and Oboade began touring worldwide. The group made their U.S. debut in 1973 at the invitation of the Cultural Enrichment Program of Washington to perform in state schools and universities. Together with his brother, Yacub Addy, Addy moved to the United States in 1977 and formed a band, Ablade, with American musicians. Two years later, Addy began teaching private lessons and performed for six weeks in the Black Repertory Theater's production of "For Coloured Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf". Forming a new band, Kukrudu, in 1981, Addy and the band recorded two albums -- "Obo" in 1983 and "Obo Addy/Kukrudu" in 1984. In 1986, Addy recorded a traditional solo album, "Born In The Tradition" and a contemporary album, "African-American". The traditional and contemporary sides of Addy's musical persona continued to be explored in 1987. While Kukrudu performed at the Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton jazz festivals, Addy also assembled a four-piece group, Okropong, to focus on traditional music and dance. In 1989, Addy developed a music and dance concert production that traced the history, culture and meaning of Highlife music in Ghana. Funded by the NEA, he toured with the production throughout California. Addy's composition, "Wawshisijay (Our Beginning)," was recorded by the Kronos Quartet and featured on their chart-topping 1992 album, Pieces of Africa. The same year, Addy's album, Let Me Play My Drums, which spent one month on the "Billboard World Music" chart. In 1994, Addy released a solo album, The Rhythm Of Which A Chief walks Gracefully and performed with the Charlestown Symphony String Quartet. The following year, he performed three new compositions with the Kronos String Quartet in Seattle. Addy taught African song, dance and drumming in schools, including The Cornish Institute and Lewis And Clark College, and has done residencies at African-American Centers in North Carolina, the Sweetwater Art Center in Sewickley, Pennsylvania, Washington State University in Pullman, Washington and Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi
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