Indiana State University Newsroom

Ghanaian musician, dancers perform at ISU

March 28, 2012

"Pe-ti-pe-ti-boom-pop. Pe-ti-pe-ti-boom-pop."

The steady rhythm accompanied a chorus of singing and clapping, creating a palpable energy during an African drumming and dance workshop on March 23.

"If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing," said Bernard Woma, a master xylophone player and founder of the Ghana-based Saakumu Dance Troupe.

A row of 20 African drums, each played by a workshop participant, bordered a group learning the movements to a Ghanaian dance, led by two senior dancers from the Saakumu Dance Troupe.

"This gives you a whole different perspective on culture," said Amanda Jacobs, a senior business management major from Gary. She especially enjoyed learning the dance steps, but said she loved "everything" about the event.

Woma encouraged all audience members to participate in the activities, adding that they didn't need to worry about being experts.


"In African music, every mistake is a new style. Just don't make too many new styles," he joked.


Woma, who has performed for dignitaries such as President Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and former President Bill Clinton, led the workshop in Indiana State University's Nelson Mandela Auditorium. He and two senior members of the Saakumu Dance Troupe introduced attendees to traditional and contemporary African dance and music.

Dressed in colorful traditional apparel, Woma wore a long red tunic and a short blue hat with yellow symbols woven into the fabric.

Despite his small frame, Woma's presence commanded attention from the packed auditorium, which held a diverse audience of all ages, a mix of cultures, and a combination of community members and ISU students.

"Ago!" called out Woma.

"Ame!" responded the captivated audience.

Woma explained that this call and response technique reinforces unity within the group, tying together the singing, clapping, drumming and dancing of all the participants to create one unified performance.

The energetic atmosphere fell into silence as Woma prepared to play the gyil, an African xylophone. The 86-year-old instrument, composed of an African wood comparable to rosewood, gourds, and even spider webs, belonged to his grandfather.

Woma said his culture discovered his natural gift for the xylophone from the day he was born. "African societies observe natural traditions," he said. "I came out like this," he said, holding his hands above his shoulders, with fists clenched as if holding mallets.


Music plays a large role in African culture, social events and history.


"Music helps identify who you are," said Woma.

Music also causes a person to remember a specific time or place. For senior Courtney Taylor, it takes her back to two months of living in Johannesburg, South Africa, last summer.

"I miss it so much. Any glimpse of Africa I can get, I take it," she said.

Taylor heard about the event from ISU adjunct professor of African American studies Colleen Haas, who coordinated the event.

"She's very passionate about studying different forms of African music," said Taylor.

Haas hoped the event could serve as a way for students to interact with people from Africa and learn about culture in an experiential way.

"We are really fortunate to have them here," said Haas of Woma and the Saakumu Dance Troupe.

The workshop was made possible through a mini grant from the Office of Experiential Learning and Community Engagement, as well as assistance from the Lilly Endowment and the ISU Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Nakia Smiley, also a senior business management major from Gary, encouraged students to attend similar events in the future.

"If you enjoy music or dancing, you'll love this."

Photos: Woma, a master xylophone player and founder of the Ghana-based Saakumu Dance Troupe, displays an African drummer that participants would use. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell students and community members learn to play the African drums. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell learn how to do a traditional dance. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Contact: Colleen Haas, adjunct professor of African American studies, Indiana State University, at 812-237-2553 or

Writer: Bethany Donat, media relations assistant, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773 or