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Elikem Nyamuame, a graduate student in ethnomusicology, brings a West African music and culture background to Wesleyan. He has mastered Wesleyan's drums, most of which are from Ghana, his native country.
Posted 04.17.07

Ghana Native Teaches West African Music, Dance, Culture at Wesleyan

Q: Elikem, where are you from and what brought you to Wesleyan?

A: I am from Accra, Ghana. I got the inspiration to come to Wesleyan from some friends from Wesleyan and my professors who are Wesleyan alumni. Some of these alumni taught me at the University of Ghana, School of Performing Arts, in Legon. They told me about the World Music program in Wesleyan and knowing my background as a western trained musician and also rooted in African music, they strongly believed I should investigate different musical traditions and contribute to Wesleyan’s World Music Program from African perspective.

Q: Do you teach and take classes?

A: I became part of the faculty in fall 2006, also taking graduate seminars as well. The classes are from Monday through Thursday both in music and dance departments.

Q: What do students learn in West African Music and Culture?

A: This course provides a practical and theoretical introduction to traditional West African music and culture. Students experience the rhythms, songs, movements, and languages of Ghana orally and by assigned readings, films and guided listening to commercial field recordings. This approach to learning is in keeping with the integrated nature of drumming, dancing, singing, and hand clapping in West Africa. Students learn to play a range of instruments including drums, bells, and rattles.

Q: What is your personal experience with West African music? Do you play all the instruments?

A: To me it is heredity. I am from a royal family so it turns to be something fun and a source of my happiness. It demands a lot of energy and techniques to become a master. I play all the instruments, even outside of Africa.

Q: You are from a royal family?

A: Yes. I am a prince from my ethnic region. My grandfather is a king. I do not like that type of lifestyle. I'm a simple person.

Q: What do American students think of West African music?

A: They love it because it is a different set of instruments, techniques, concepts that are locked in structure within African culture in comparison to Jazz and other genres of music. It is challenging to students who do not have any musical experience but they gain a lot and are transformed by the approach we use in teaching. I’m happy to be working with students who are always ready to learn.

Q: Do you write your own music?

A: Yes. For drums, I compose music for dance choreographies. I write compositions for western instruments in African style, and compose for choirs and various singing groups.

Q: What is your five year plan? Will you stay in America or return to Ghana?

A: I won’t necessarily stay in America, but I’ll go wherever I can impact knowledge to students who are ready to learn about world music and dance. I will teach for a while and continue to graduate school again.

Q: What is your dissertation on?

A: My dissertation is on esoteric music in Ghana called Yeve. It is a sacred music and rituals of a secret society associated with the God of Thunder in the Volta region of Ghana.

Q: What do you enjoy most about Wesleyan’s Music Program?

A: I mostly enjoy the diversity in the ethnomusicology program, and the exposure to various types of music I have received throughout my studies at Wesleyan.

Q: Aside from music, what are your hobbies and interests?

A: I like acting, which I did in several TV commercials and movies in Ghana. I love dancing, playing soccer, cooking and eating.

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor