Playing for the Planet: The Agbekor Drum and Dance Society

In 1979, I was running the scheduling at “Cambridge Custom Percussion,” the Cambridgeport neighborhood drum shop. Selling the conga drums made by “Conga Jim” VanDenAkker and the ceramic dumbeqs of Betsy McGurk during the day, the shop changed into a small performance and teaching space. I was twenty-one; the youngest member of the ad hoc collective that supposedly ran the place. I was looking for teachers who were interested in giving classes in various styles of group drumming…and that’s how I met David Locke, recently returned from several years’ study in Ghana. He was already teaching at Tufts, but began a regular class at CCP. That class took off; people loved the repertoire, and David was (and is) an exceptional teacher.

After a while, there was enough of a regular group that it became a repertory ensemble, the Agbekor Drum and Dance Society (eventually, if memory serves me right, incorporating as a 501(c)3 non-profit). I was never personally interested in learning the master drum parts; all I really wanted to do was play the kagan, the small high-pitched drum which fills in the offbeats in Ewe music.

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