BaoBao festival celebrates West African culture

The BaoBao Festival was held on March 10 at the King Center to honor traditional West African culture through music, dance and storytelling.

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MSU Denver Affiliate Faculty Adjei Abankwah leads a dance as the audience follows in finale of the BaoBao Festival at the Kenneth King Performing Arts Center March 10. Photo by Daniel Day • dday16@msudenver.edu

The festival began with the echoes of a Ghanaian drum called the Kpanlogo mi. Shortly after, the Mokomba Ensemble made their entrance. The booming acoustics harmoniously intermingled with each skip, shimmy and sway, enchanting the stage. Every eye was glued to the vibrant pinks, greens and yellows woven through each garment; captivating all as the music and the motion came together in unison.

The Mokomba are a West African dance and drum ensemble made up of multinational members. One member of the ensemble, Akramah Cofie, describes being a part of this festival as, “The opportunity to celebrate your culture with other people. Celebrate our differences.”

Adjei Abankwah founded the BaoBao Festival in Boulder in 2004. He hopes to encourage people who have little knowledge of West African culture to immerse themselves in this experience.

The name BaoBao comes from the Baobab tree in Ghana. Abankwah recounted how this tree is a meeting place for family and friends. He said that everyone gathers under this tree to sing, dance and tell each other stories for entertainment. Instead of teaching in a traditional sense, Abankwah said he wanted to make everyone in the audience feel the experience; and make it fun so that people would be moved to learn more.

“When you open your heart, you will feel it,” Abankwah said.

Abankwah says that the Baobab tree is their therapy; a place of solace for the Ghanaian community. Anyone can bring their troubles here and leave with encouragement and guidance. According
to The World Bank, Ghana’s gross domestic product has risen to $37.5 billion USD, but a large portion of the country still remains impoverished, with little access to mental health care and therapy.

When another member of the Mokomba Ensemble, Nii Okai Aryeetey, was asked why music and dance was important to their culture, he said, “We dance to happy our souls, sometimes for sorrows too.”

Although the festival was created to enhance awareness for West African culture, Abankwah and his colleagues soon found a higher purpose.

Dai Kato co-established the Mokomba Ensemble and works closely with the BaoBao Foundation. After working as a psychotherapist with inner-city children on the East Coast, Kato said he believes music has the potential to heal.

Kato also revealed that there are still communities in Ghana that do not provide any form of education. There are many children in Ghana that begin working at the age of eight. The BaoBao Foundation has set out to change this situation and create a new direction for the future of Ghana.

The BaoBao Foundation will finish the construction of its first library in Santa Maria, Ghana this summer after years of hard work. This is a tremendous accomplishment for the foundation’s
members, but they will not be stopping there. The foundation will continue to build and promote education in Ghana, as well as enlightening others of their culture and their cause.

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