Hippo Manchester
August 25, 2005

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The different drummer

Ghana native explores the roots of percussion

by Richie Victorino 

You can’t get any closer to the root of all music than when you listen to the hypnotic, often soul-rattling drum beats of Africa.

Rather than buy a CD or take the trek to Africa — though I recommend we all make that trip in our lives — to listen to these beats, why not become your own music maker, under the tutelage of a West African native living right here in Manchester?

“I want to share with everybody everything I have learned,” said Theo Martey, in a thick African accent. “[Music] exercises the body. Energizes. It makes you calmer.”

Martey is a veteran of African drums, having first tried his hand at this ancient art form at the age of 6, in his homeland of Ghana.

“At that time I don’t know anything,” he said. “I was a kid.”

But the kid grew up, and with maturity came an ever-impressing ability to handle the skins.

Six years ago Martey left his homeland and embarked on a worldly quest, performing shows and conducting workshops in England, Scotland, Detroit, New York City and now New Hampshire.

He recently conducted a drum workshop for children at the Manchester Boys and Girls Club but has since moved his operation to inside Murphy’s Boxing Gym at 55 Commercial St.

One might wonder why learning to bang away at a wooden drum with your hands — and the occasional drumstick — would require the instruction of a teacher.

Martey defends his craft, saying there is a true technique to African drums, more than just learning rhythm.

“If you don’t know how to play drums and you whack it, you can hurt your hand,” he said.

Take, for example, three methods of hitting an African drum. You can play bass, tone and slap sounds with the same drum. You’ve got to know how to use your hands for each method and know where to hit the drum. Martey wants to teach you this.

Rhythm, of course, is another key component to drumming. Even if you don’t have rhythm, Martey said, he can teach you in baby steps, such as teaching you how to keep two beats in rhythm. Once you graduate from two beats, he’ll throw in more obstacles. If you get really good, or end up truly enjoying the drums, Martey may recruit you to play with his Akwaaba Tradtional African Drum & Dance Ensemble.

More on Theo Martey

Theo Martey isn’t a huge fan of rock ‘n’roll but he does appreciate a good hip-hop song every once in a while. His favorite hip-hop artist out there today is Nelly. He likes Nelly’s vocal flows over the beats.

Martey teaches African drums and dancing at Murphy’s Boxing Gym, currently at 55 Commercial St., though the gym is relocating soon.

The workshops are Fridays (drumming workshop), 6 to 7 p.m.  and Saturdays (dance workshop), 1:15 to 2:30. The cost for six sessions is $81. You can have a try-it-before-you-buy-it session before you make the $81 six-session commitment.

Contact Martey at 264-5582 or at akwaabadanceco@yahoo.com for more information.