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Two years ago, master drummer Obo Addy’s Okropong ensemble filled the Williams Center for the Arts with joyous music-making and marvelously resonant cascades of sound and rhythm. The versatile troupe combined traditional West African djembe hand drumming and smaller tuned mallet drums with the haunting choruses of shekere gourds and gongs.

One of the most popular groups from that 20th anniversary Williams Center season, Okropong will have a return engagement at Lafayette 8 p.m. tonight. (The performance replaces the Feb. 11 SamulNori concert following the cancellation of the group’s United States tour because of a shortfall in Korean travel funds. Okropong’s schedule did not allow for a Feb. 11 concert.)

Tickets are free for students, $4 for faculty and staff, and $18 for the public. They can be obtained by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

Okropong gave a free lecture-demonstration of African drumming and dance at the Williams Center yesterday.

In 1996, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Addy the National Heritage Fellowship Award, the highest honor a traditional artist can receive in this country. He is the first African-born artist to receive the award.

Time magazine calls Addy’s song ‘Wawshishijay,’ commissioned by Kronos Quartet, a “highlight” of the group’s chart-topping album Pieces of Africa. Rolling Stone declares, “The rhythmic layers in ‘Wawshishijay’never compete but rather continually unfold and transform.”

“The audience is moved by awe and a desire to dance. The music was electric!” states Variety of Pasadena, Calif., in a review. The Beat Magazine notes, “Running the gamut from samba schools to James Brown, Addy’s musical walkout is nothing less than thrilling.”

Addy carries the musical richness of his native Ghana as an ambassador to the world, with performances, workshops, and festival celebrations that exemplify the century-old traditions of African music and dance. Okropong means “eagle” in Addy’s native Ga language, and the musicians and dancers of his ensemble exude the spirit of flight through an array of hand and stick drums, talking drums, bells, and shakers, shifting their rhythmic cadences in call-and-response exchanges.

As a prominent member of the first generation of African musicians to bring their traditional and popular music to Europe and America, Addy embodies the past, present, and future of Ghana’s musical culture. An original and respected composer whose music reaches far beyond the boundaries of his land of birth, Addy has a two-decade presence on the international performing arts scene and has become known for his ability to celebrate past traditions while expanding to embrace new ideas and foreign influences. He is one of the key originators of the seminal musical movement known as “Worldbeat.”

Addy, the son of a Wonche medicine man in Ghana, was designated a “master drummer” at the age of six. He was surrounded by an enormous family (his father had 55 children by 10 wives) and thoroughly immersed in the core musical traditions of his people. During his teenage years and after World War II, Addy absorbed the international pop music that had seeped into his home town of Accra. He played in Joe Kelly’s Band, The Ghana Broadcasting Band, and Farmers Council Band for many years, mostly playing European and American music. He later gravitated to Highlife, a new blend of African and European instrumentation.

In 1969, Addy was employed by the Arts Council of Ghana as a Ga master of the national music. In 1972, he and his brothers performed at the Olympic Games in Munich and embarked on an international tour. They lived in London and toured extensively until 1978, when he moved to the United States and settled in Portland, Ore. With his wife, Susan, he created Homowo African Arts and Cultures, a nonprofit organization holding an annual festival that has introduced thousands of people to the music of Ghana.

Addy teaches music at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Ore. He travels throughout the country conducting teaching residencies and performing both solo and with his performing groups: Okropong, dedicated to the traditional tribal music and dance of Ghana, and Kukrudu, which performs original music written by Addy.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2005–06 Performance Series is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, the Dexter and Dorothy Baker Foundation, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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