In some ways, Friday night's Bernard Woma performance didn't belong at the Musical Instrument Museum's theater; a seven-month old venue that still seems so shiny and untouchable that one is tempted to remove his or her shoes before entering.
However, when the concert concluded with more than 30 audience members and MIM staff members dancing onstage along with the Ghana, West Africa-based music and dance ensemble, the gleaming space finally seemed accessible and not so touchy-feely. (The bigger at-large issue is this: As long as a venue that has seats brings in danceable music into its hall, an awkward divide between performers and audience will always exist.)
Concertgoers can thank Woma's six-person troupe for bridging the gap. Woma, a master xylophonist born in the Upper West Region of Ghana -- a predominately Muslim area located near the Burkina Faso border -- sonically traversed the West African country with a repertoire that included ceremonial numbers that he grew up with as well as a worship song from the Ashanti Region that "makes the dancer possessed," according to Woma.
Singing in a variety of Ghanaian languages (such as Twi, Asante, and Ga) and decked in an assortment of African dress, Woma, along with two percussionists and three dancers, showcased high-octane and swift-moving tunes that could put the grumpiest human being in the best mood ever.
Part of this was due to Woma's personality. Between songs, as traditional xylophones such as the Gyil were shuttled off stage to make room for gourds and hand drums, he peppered the already spicy music with Ghanaian wisdom drenched in a storyteller's humor. For instance, while talking about the construction of a tiny handmade drum from functional materials (he would later unintentionally destroy the instrument while whapping at it with all of his might), Woma quipped, "My people started recycling 2,000 years ago."
In the end, something that Woma said at the show's beginning -- "bad dancing will never kill the ground" -- perfectly summed up the socially interactive performance. When he repeated this sentiment before the concert's last song, and the people responded by filing down the aisle and on to the stage to let loose, the demarcation line separating audience from performers (as well as the cultural barriers between Africa and the States) was a lot more blurred.
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