Wheels will be up in just a few days on Vashon Percussion’s fourth trip to Kumasi, Ghana. After organizing three previous group trips, Todd Zimberg will travel with only Isaiah Hazzard this summer and the two will spend two weeks studying traditional Asante Kete drumming with master teacher Koo Nimo and his group of drummers. Isaiah is a past student of Vashon Percussion and currently studying in the Steinhardt School of Culture and Human Development at New York University, majoring in jazz studies.
In addition to studying the Kete rhythms, Todd and Isaiah will be continuing work on transcription and documentation. Isaiah will be implementing this research in his studies at NYU.
Isaiah has detailed the history of Todd’s connection to Koo and Kete drumming, as well as outlined his research intentions on his GoFundMe page. We encourage you to read his post, copied below, and consider making a donation to his research fund.
Hello all and welcome to this GoFundMe page!
First of all, thank you for reading this, I hope you read through my GoFundMe campaign story and hope you find it “worth the ride.” My name is Isaiah and I am an NYU student and just completed my second year at the Steinhardt School of Culture and Human Development majoring in jazz studies. I play the drums and write music. This summer I will be returning to Kumasi, Ghana with my mentor, Todd Zimberg, for two weeks to continue our study of Asante Kete drumming. Kete is a style of drumming of the Asante tribe of Ghana that is hundreds of years old and integral to Asante culture. It is performed for cultural rituals like funerals and ceremonies for the induction of chiefs; it is also a fading ‘soundtrack’ of everyday life as there are fewer and fewer masters of this amazing art form.
I was introduced to Kete drumming in the 6th grade through Kete sessions led by my teacher, Todd, who had met acclaimed Ghanaian guitarist Koo Nimo through the ethnomusicology program at University of Washington during Todd’s masters study. Since, he has brought groups of his private students to study with Koo in Kumasi, and learn Kete drumming and dance. This trip will just be Todd and I, and it will be more immersive and dedicated to the study of this music, and an attempt to begin to archive Kete rhythms, and its role in Asante culture.
We will be studying with Koo and a group of master drummers; taking daily lessons, conducting interviews and recording. We will also be (re)visiting three schools in the Ayeduase Newsite area in Kumasi to deliver school supplies and visit with students and teachers. These are schools that Todd and his students have visited in past trips to Ghana that he has stayed in touch with. We hope to use this trip to continue our relationship with these schools and continue to donate school supplies materials, and plan for more involved donations in the future.
I am looking to secure financial support in order to:
· Formally document the art form via audio recordings and videotaped interviews.
· Begin production of a instructional and ethnographical book on Kete rhythms. The ‘book’ will be part of an NYU independent study project and will include recordings, interviews with Koo Nimo about his life story, transcriptions, application of rhythms to the drum set, rhythmic relation to Twi—the native language of the Asante’s, as well as cultural and historical information about the music.
· Contribute much needed supplies to the schools we visit.
The money gained in the GoFundMe will go towards the plane ticket, food and lodging, and video and audio recording equipment.
Part of the beauty of Kete drumming is that it is an oral tradition—meaning there are no written transcriptions of these rhythms that they teach from. Kete, like most forms of African music, they are taught by feel through imitation. Because of this, I will need to take incredible care and respect when attempting to transcribe and analyze these rhythms. While the act of transcribing these rhythms itself is a way of ‘westernizing’ the art form, this is not my intent. I instead want to attempt to capture the music, and in order to do this I will be making it a priority to fully respect the African culture of teaching orally and by feel. This will be a challenge and a fundamental emphasis of the project.
My relationship with this type of drumming began many years ago. I studied Kete each summer through high school. Koo’s son Yaw would visit Todd’s drum camp every other summer to teach basic Kete rhythms. During some years, we would have weekly Kete sessions, which eventually got me hooked on the rhythms and the feel of Kete.
I was fortunate enough to go to Ghana in 2015 with a group of students to study with Koo and several master drummers. This trip was life changing. I experienced this music first hand, and was immersed in their culture. It was an incredibly friendly and open environment and community; I played with, and learned from, some of the most naturally talented musicians I had ever seen. I knew that I wanted to keep coming back to Kumasi whenever I had the opportunity.
This project is important to me because it will give me an opportunity to research a topic that I am incredibly passionate about, while creating something that will help to preserve Kete drumming through transcriptions and recordings. I think its worth noting that ‘preservation’ is a strong word to use in this sense, for a musician and ‘journalist’ at my level—I consider it more of a three dimensional capture of an art form that is incredibly unique and rare, and relatively undocumented. I also think that it is important to tell Koo’s story—as a treasured Ghanaian artist and ethnomusicologist, I believe his story should be told. Although I have no previous formal experience in journalism, I am interested in the opportunity to share the life of Koo as best I can.
I would also like to eventually teach my peers and private students Kete—for their own musical development as well as a door to other world music forms. This project, along with continued travel to Ghana and other countries will give me (some) credibility as a messenger of this music to help my students’ own exploration.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to read this campaign. Absolutely any donations, questions, comments are deeply appreciated and welcomed! This is all new for me and I’m excited to put this out there with not much expectations.
AV Equipment (Canon G9 camera, Zoom H4N): $250.00
Photos by Chloë Zimberg