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World On Your Street: The Global Music Challenge
Ben Baddoo
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Musician: Ben Baddoo

Location: Bristol

Instruments: Drums

Music: Ghanaian

HOW I CAME TO THIS MUSIC          WHERE I PLAY          A FAVOURITE SONG Click here for Hande Domac's storyClick here for Mosi Conde's storyClick here for Rachel McLeod's story
The Home of Black Websites

Listen  Listen (2'25) to 'Tigari', performed by Ben Baddoo on vocals and on odono, the Ghanaian talking drum

Listen  Listen (2'39) to Ben Baddoo talk about his music

Listen  Listen (4'34) to Ben Baddoo showcasing at the World On Your Street tent, WOMAD 2002

'To be recognised as a Master drummer, you need to have worked under the continuous supervision of a Master drummer'

How I came to this music:

I've started playing the drums when I was 6 years old. We lived in Nsakina, a village about 20 miles from Accra, the capital of Ghana. In fact, my Grandfather established that village and it has since developed into a town.

As the Chieftain of the village, together with my Great Aunt, herself a priestess, he co-ordinated many rituals. All of these rituals were accompanied by drumming and everyone was expected to play the drums. It was just what you did. During these rituals, my older brothers would initially hand me a bottle, or even a cowbell, to play out the rhythms. If one of them got off their chair to go to the kitchen, then I'd take my chance and go for the drums. Within two years, I was actually a very good drummer.

Ben BaddooWhen I was 10 years old, I left the village to go and live with my mother in Accra. I also gave up the drums because I had greater ambitions in my mind to be a lawyer. By the time I was 17 however, I ended up working on a building site. I'd also fallen in love with a girl who was a dancer with a troupe that were funded by the Arts Council of Ghana. In order to remain in her favour and be with her at all the dancing festivals, I took up the drums once more. Before long, the head of the troupe realised that I was actually a fairly gifted drummer and soon I was leading the drummers. I eventually established my own group of drummers, Sankofa and we toured all over Ghana.

During this period, an English visitor noticed my group and invited us to come to the UK in 1984. I was 25 years old and our prospects were great. We performed at the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End. As we were the only African drumming group in the UK at the time, we were a real hit. Then along came Epitombi from South Africa. Their dancers were far more scantily clad than ours and so the promoters went for them instead. We tried our luck with other theatres but as we were a very large group, it was hard to keep going. Many of the troupe returned to Ghana but I decided to stay as I reckoned my options were better here than working back home as a builder.

Luckily I met a man called Peter Blackman who were very canny when it came to getting money from the Arts Council of England. He'd secured all this funding to run community arts projects and he needed me to help him so we became business partners. We set up Steel and Skin Limited which toured around the schools and community centres of the UK offering workshops in African drumming and dance.

Ben Baddoo

Here in the UK, audiences are easily satisfied. Often it's enough for them to know that you're an African and you've a drum. It doesn't seem to matter whether you're any good or not. On some levels, this is great for any African drummers trying to survive here but ultimately I'm hoping that the workshops I give are helping to develop a deeper awareness among Britons about the complexity and training required to be a really good African drummer.

A Ghanaian audience, on the other hand, is impossible to cheat. There are a lot of 'African Drummers' I know here in the UK who wouldn't even get a chance to touch a cowbell never mind a drum back in Ghana. I enjoy the challenge of this kind of audience as they know instinctively what I'm trying to do. I'm actually a Master Drummer which means that I've had extensive training. Over the years I've learned a huge repertoire of rhythms to accompany the many traditional dances that we have in our culture. To be recognised as a Master drummer, you need to have worked under the continuous supervision of a Master drummer. I did that whilst leading my own dance group there in my early 20's. It's really very hard work as there are so many variations and arrangements to keep in your head. None of this is written down. To keep connected to this rich source, I usually try to go back home at least once a year if I can.

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