Ghana-born artist creates a transcendent landscape
An acclaimed guitarist, singer-songwriter, percussionist, and dancer, Okaidja Afroso has celebrated the richness of West African culture presenting dynamic concerts around the world. He will make his Maui debut on Friday.
“My music preserves my West African roots while embracing diverse cross-cultural influences and styles,” reports the Ghana-born artist. “I strive to create a rhythmic fusion of old and new that presents a fresh sound that preserves the authenticity of the traditional while embracing the rich complexity of the integrated world we inhabit today.”
Afroso’s Maui show will include a dance floor. “I encourage people to dance,” he says. “There’s quite a bit of dancing in my show. People hear the music and they feel like moving.”
Now based in Portland, Ore., Afroso was born into a family of musicians and storytellers in the village of Kokrobite on the west coast of Ghana.
“It was a small fishing village and music and dance is how we express ourselves,” he recalls. “Everything that happens in the community is put into music and dance. That’s how you put information out.”
At the age of 19, he was accepted as a professional dancer for the prestigious Ghana Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies, and became known for his energetic stage presence. “Even today, I’m a dancer first,” he says. “Whatever instrument I play, I think as a dancer first.”
After moving to the U.S. in 1997, he joined Okropong, a traditional Ghanaian music and dance group directed by legendary drummer Obo Addy.
Afroso’s debut album in 2004, “The Traditionalist,” was an emotional interpretation of the Ghanaian folkloric songs. “I wanted to remember everything I heard when I was growing up,” he explains. “It was really raw.”
On his second album, “Obutu Apla,” he ventured beyond the traditional to explore the African Diaspora with influences from Brazil, Cuba, and American blues.
“It showed my progression of when I came to America. I wanted to learn about the African Diaspora, the movement of Africans from the continent of Africa to the Americas, which is the slave trade, and the music they brought with them and its evolution. That’s what brought me to other instruments, including the guitar, to tell my story more fully.”
Citing Paul Simon, Bobby McFerrin, Johnny Cash, Sting, and Lokua Kanza as musical inspirations, on his most recent album, “The Palm Wine Sea,” he combined the seductive rhythms of Ghana’s palm wine music with the lyrical beauty of Latin American music for a joyous, intoxicating musical adventure.
Palm wine music is a West African musical genre. It evolved among the Kru people of Liberia, who used Portuguese guitars brought by sailors, combining local melodies and rhythms with Trinidadian calypso.
“Out of palm wine came highlife (music),” he explains. “When the British were in Ghana they called it highlife music, and out of that came Afrobeat.”
For his Maui concert, Afroso will be joined by Boinor Titus Nartey and Manavihare Fiaindratov on percussion and vocals.
The LA Dance Review praised: “His voice, guitar, and percussion instruments blended into a landscape that was transcendent.”
* Okaidja Afroso performs in MACC’s Castle Theater on Friday at 7:30 p.m. The show will have a dance floor. Tickets are $35 and $45, and kids 12 and under are half price (plus applicable fees). For tickets or more information, visit the box office, call 242-6469, or go online to www.mauiarts.org.
Maui Chamber Orchestra will open its 2019-20 season on Sunday at the Kihei Baptist Chapel with a “Music for String Quartet (+1)” concert. Musicians performing include Rona Landrigan (violin), AeKyong Yoon (violin), Teresa Skinner (viola), Cheryl Lindley (cello), and Michelle Ancheta (cello).
Schubert’s sublime “String Quintet in C” is the featured work. Composed in 1828, during the final weeks of Schubert’ life, the quintet was the composer’s last instrumental work and ranks among his greatest accomplishments.
NPR’s guide to essential classics notes that he revolutionized the art of writing for strings, creating sounds that no one had ever created before in a small string ensemble, constantly varying the texture as he did it. “There are vast changes of light and color in the piece, as well as great harmonic variation.”
Also on the program, Gershwin’s beautiful “Lullaby for String Quartet.” In 1919, while Gershwin was making a name for his Broadway songs, he was already attracted to the world of classical music. He prepared himself by taking an intensive course in composition, during which he wrote this brief “Lullaby” as an exercise. The manuscript sat on his brother Ira Gershwin’s shelf for decades. It was only published in 1968, with the Juilliard String Quartet making the first recording in 1974.
“It may not be the Gershwin of ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ ‘Concerto in F,’ or any of his other concert works, but I find it charming,” reported Ira Gershwin.
The third work in the program is Borodin’s heavenly “Notturno,” from the “String Quartet No. 2 in D major.” The quartet was composed by Borodin in 1881, and dedicated to his wife, Ekaterina Protopova. Some scholars have suggested that the quartet was a 20th anniversary gift, and that it has a program evoking the couple’s first meeting in Heidelberg. The third movement, “Notturno,” is the most famous.
The offerings of the Maui Chamber Orchestra’s latest season include two orchestra concerts at Historic Iao Theater and a series of four chamber music concerts at Kihei Baptist Chapel.
The chamber music series shines a spotlight on MCO’s principal players, with programs for woodwinds and piano on March 15, 2020, and brass on April 19. Rounding out the series is a Valentine-themed concert on Feb. 9, featuring a quartet of vocalists offering musical depictions of love through the ages, from the Renaissance to Broadway and jazz.
* The “Music for String Quartet (+1)” concert is presented on Sunday at 3 p.m. at Kihei Baptist Chapel. Tickets are $30, $20 or seniors, and $10 or students, available from mauichamberorchestra.org.
It looks like HAPA could set up permanent residence in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. On Sunday, Barry Flanagan and Keli’i Kaneali’i return for their 7th show, in an unprecedented run of sold out concerts. The popular duo will be joined by special guests Eric Gilliom and Anthony Pfluke. Tickets are $35, $45, and $65 (plus applicable fees).
Playing for Change’s latest brilliant video of Robbie Robertson with Ringo Starr playing The Band’s classic “The Weight,” has so far racked up more than two million views. That’s great exposure for Hawaii artists featured in the video including Taimane, John Cruz, and bassist Hutch Hutchinson.
In January, ukulele virtuoso Taimane heads to Germany for some shows, and then heads back for an East Coast tour. Over the summer, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History unveiled a new exhibit showcasing a short film entitled, “Creating Sea Change,” focusing on Hawaii’s Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. The film uses two Taimane recordings, “The Sun” and “Rings of Saturn.”
On Friday at 7 p.m., the Wailuku Coffee Attic will feature the Steven Von Linne Band dance party with Brazilian, rock, funk, and Latin music from the 1970s through ’90s, with KAOI-FM DJ Jack Gist on harp and Brazilian keyboardist Sandra Verissima. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.
The Irish group The Byrne Brothers will play the Seabury Hall Performing Arts Center on Saturday at 7 p.m. A family band from Donegal, Ireland, the band features Luca, age 15, on accordion, Finn, age 13 on banjo, Dempsey, age 10 on bodhran, and father Tommy Byrne on guitar, fiddle, uilleann pipes and bagpipes. Irish Music Magazine wrote the band is, “taking Irish music and dancing to a whole new level.” Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for students, and free for kids under 8.
And on Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 at Mulligans on the Blue in Wailea, Mana’o Radio presents a “Blues Revue & BBQ” featuring The Jimmy Dillon Band. Admission is $20 at the door with proceeds benefiting the radio station.