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Yacub Addy

April 15, 1931 - Dec. 18, 2014

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Yacub Addy was the eldest living drummer in the renowned Addy family of drummers, singers and dancers from Ghana. He created works rooted in the traditions of the Ga ethnic group. Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Yacub Addy, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Yacub Addy, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Yacub Addy, Bethesda, Maryland, 2010, photograph by Alan Govenar
Yacub Addy, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Yacub Addy and a member of his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Yacub Addy's troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Michael G. Stewart
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, Photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett
Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, photograph by Alan Hatchett

Yacub Addy was born into a family of drummers, singers and dancers in a village near Accra, the capital of Ghana. His father was Okonfo Akoto, a wontse, or medicine man, of the Ga ethnic group. His mother, Akua Hagan, was a lead singer in her husband’s medicine music. In 1956, the year before Ghana gained independence from British rule, Addy made a breakthrough when he presented traditional Ghanaian music and dance in Accra. This was difficult, he said, “because Ghanaians had adopted colonial attitudes by then… We started small, but in 1956, before independence, I organized a big concert of music and dance at Accra Community Center. That was where Ghanaians began to see what I was trying to do. They were surprised, and there was a good response.”

Addy created the groups Ashiedu Ketrekre, which performed in Ghana in the 1960s, and Oboade, which toured the West from 1968-1972. He married an African American woman while living in Europe and in 1975 moved to the United States. Beginning 1982, he led Odadaa!, a troupe composed primarily of Ga artists. The name translates to “Let the music begin!” It performed traditional music and dance arranged and choreographed by Addy as well as his original compositions.

When Addy was growing up, he and his friends heard and danced to the music of American jazz musicians, including Count Basie, Louis Jordan and Louis Armstrong. Addy heard connections to his own traditions in some of this music. When Armstrong visited Ghana and talked about New Orleans, Addy vowed to visit the Crescent city “so I could understand what he was talking about.” He did so in 1984, when Odadda! made its first appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. A tour took him to Congo Square, the site in Louis Armstrong Park, where African slaves once sang and danced. Addy asked about the music the slaves had played, but no one could answer his questions.

Addy’s collaborations in the U.S. included two projects with jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, with whom the Ghanaian artist felt a strong connection. Their Africa Jazz premiered at Columbia University in 2003. They also created Congo Square, an attempt to convey the spirit of the slave music. It premiered in April 2006 in Congo Square, as a gift to the City of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. For Addy, the performance was a powerfully emotional spiritual experience. “The crowd was so responsive,” he said. “The music was still developing, but the spirit of all the artists was so strong that day. It is love that made Congo Square work. If Wynton and I did not love each other, the music would never have worked.”

Addy began teaching drumming to Westerners while he still lived in Ghana and continued in the U.S., employing a technique he devised for imparting the complex, primarily hand-drummed, rhythms to people from other cultures. He taught widely and, in 1995, became a member of the music faculty at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Bibliography
Addy, Yacub, and Amina Addy. Homowo 87: Harvest Festival of the Ga People of Ghana. Oboade Institute of African Culture, Alexandria, VA, 1987.
Addy, Yacub, and Amina Addy. Odadaa! Sharing Cultural Connections. Oboade Institute of African Culture, Alexandria, VA, 1992.
Addy, Jacub and David Elwell. Sharing Cultural Connections: ODADAA! Southern Tour 1985. Oboade Institute of African Culture, Alexandria, VA, 1985.
Addy, Jacub and David Elwell. “Traditional African Drumming: The Real Thing.” Percussive Notes (April 1984).
Alarik, Scott. “Past flavors present at folk fest.” Boston Sunday Globe (August 21, 1988).
__________. “Master American Drummer: Yacub Addy.” Traditions: A Journal for the Preservation of African Music and Dance (Spring 1996).
__________. “Marsalis, Addy drumming up new beats at The Egg. Schenectady Daily Gazette (January 6, 2006) p. 40. Dunning, Jennifer. “With Humor, a World From Ghana.” The New York Times (January 30, 1989).
Goldman, Eric. “Yacub Addy and Odadaa!: Rhythm in Real Time.” Interview. Rhythm Magazine (1990).
Haymes, Greg. “When many beats play as one: Wynton Marsalis joins Ghanian drum master to honor African slaves.” Timesunion.com (January 6, 2006).
__________. “Joyous Odadaa! brings audience onstage.” The Times Union (February 17, 1992).
Jackson, George. “Odadaa!” The Washington Post (Febuary 8, 1988) p B7.
Joyce, Mike. “Odadaa!” The Washington Post (June 25, 1991).
Levy, Suzanne. “Odadaa!: Festive Virtuosity.” The Washington Post (May 29, 1990).
McLeod, Harriet. Music Review: “Storytelling in dance, drums.” The Richmond News Leader (February 8, 1991).

Discography
Addy, Yacub. Kpanlogo Party. Tangent Records TGS-113.
__________ and Oboade. Kpanlogo Party. Lyrichord Records, 7251.
__________. Master Drummer of Ghana: Blema Bii-“Children of the Ancients.” Makossa International Records ADSC-11-86012.
__________. Children of the Ancients. Aku Music 683147415328.
Marsalis, Wynton, and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Yacub Addy and Odadaa! Congo Square. CD. 2007.
__________. Congo Square DVD. Shanchie SH-DV 6332.

Filmography
Dance Like A River: Odadaa! Drumming and Dancing in the U.S., 45-minute documentary film, 1985. Audio-Visual Center, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Watch

Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts


Yacub Addy and his troupe, 2010 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Bethesda, Maryland, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Yacub Addy, 'Ta Ta Tei,' Children of the Ancients, Aku Music CD 1999

Yacub Addy, 'Kale Kale,' Children of the Ancients, Aku Music CD 1999

Yacub Addy, 'War,' Congo Square, two-CD set, Jazz at Lincoln Center, 2007

Yacub Addy, 'Hedzole Baba,' Congo Square, two-CD set, Jazz at Lincoln Center, 2007

Yacub Addy answers the question 'What was the first music you played on the drum?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Yacub Addy answers the question 'How has your music changed in the United States?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Yacub Addy answers the question 'What do African musical and dance traditions mean to you?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Yacub Addy answers the question 'Does your music retain community and ceremonial significance?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010

Yacub Addy answers the question 'What determines the nature of your drumming?' Interview by Alan Govenar, Bethesda, Maryland, September 22, 2010