Bernard Woma

Bernard Woma

From Rebecca Skinner Green It is with a very heavy heart that we announce that Bernard Woma, long-time friend of BGSU, passed away on Friday (April 27) in Kentucky. Many of you know Bernard and/or attended or participated in his performances, workshops, and guest performances. His troupe Saakumu had already left for Ghana, and he had intended to follow mid-May. However, his battle with cancer was simply too much for him. He was a consummate performer, and performed non-stop until only a couple of days before he passed away, including having performed here at BGSU just two weeks prior. (Click for story.)On stage he was energized and empowered, by the music, the dance, the performance, the audience. He truly loved what he did and it lifted him up, and as it did everyone around him. He touched the lives of an incredible number of people, in Ghana, across the US, and beyond. As Master Musician for the country of Ghana, who toured with the National Dance company of Ghana, Bernard was a talented musician, educator, performer, who was hard working and full of life — an ambassador for Ghana, its music and dance, and its culture. He founded the Dagara Music Center in 2000, in consultation with BGSU professors Steven Cornelius and Rebecca L. Green, with BGSU students being the first set of students to stay at the center after it was built. BGSU has either taken students to Bernard’s center in Ghana or invited Bernard to our campus 16 times in the last 18 years–the connections run deep. Sections of the interior walls of the DMC have been painted by various groups who have come to study there. BGSU’s painting, done by Gordon Ricketts, figures prominently. Cornelius, Green, and Ricketts have taken and/or sent students from BGSU and beyond to the DMC nine times since 2000, studying xylophone, drum, flute, and dance, as well as batik, weaving, blacksmithing, painting, pottery, and drum-making. The experiences there were life-changing. Because not everyone could travel to Ghana, Woma toured the United States every year, first by himself and later with Saakumu, bringing their exuberant music and dance to audiences big and small, young and old. They entertained and informed at concert halls, colleges, high schools, elementary schools, libraries, and more. All the while, Woma earned a BA in International Studies (with minors in History and Arts Administration) from the State University of New York at Fredonia (2008), and two MA degrees in African Studies and Folklore & Ethnomusicology at Indiana University (2012 and 2015). He gave 110% all the time, whether it be a performance for a packed house at Carnegie Hall with Yo Yo Ma, playing in conjunction with Maya Angelou, performing for Queen Elizabeth II or Nelson Mandela, welcoming President Clinton to Ghana, giving private lessons to President Obama’s children on their visit to his country, or entertaining and educating students at BGSU, or toddlers at the Wood County Public Library. In fact, over the years he has been an artist-in-residence, offering performances, workshops, and masterclasses, to BGSU’s community seven times since 2000. Bernard was larger-than-life, to say the least. He was someone who periodically exploded into one’s world with his song and dance and goofy sayings, including: “Thank you for thanking me,” or “The cow never says thank you to the river,” or “Bad dancing never hurt the ground” (though he encouraged people to not hurt the ground too much), and “Every mistake is a new style!” Bernard was Dagara not Asante. But the proclamation made when the Asantehene passed seems appropriate. “A great tree has fallen. A mighty…


Ghanaian master drummer Bernard Woma has wake up call for BGSU students

By DAVID DUPONT BG Independent News Master drummer Bernard Woma has greeted presidents and royalty to his native Ghana. On Tuesday morning he greeted students in Bowling Green State University’s School of Art with the throbbing sound of drums, and the swirl of dancers. Most of those in the audience in the lobby of the Bryan Gallery were students in Rebecca Skinner Green’s African art class, but the ranks of listeners swelled as the rhythm reverberated around the building. They didn’t stay observers for long. On the second dance, members of Woma’s Saakumu dance troupe summoned those in the audience to join the line, instructing them as they danced, on the steps and gestures. “We share the music together,” Woma said. “We share the experience together, so you better understand.” Ghanaian music is participatory. Woma has been coming to BGSU every few years since 2001. This week’s two-day stay with his dance troupe will culminate with a free performance Wednesday night at 7 in the Eva Marie Saint Theatre in Wolfe Center for the Arts. He said that when he first opened his Dagara Music Center in 1998, a BGSU group led by Skinner Green and Steven Cornelius was the first to come to study there. Woma said he was born to be a drummer. He came out of his mother’s womb with his fists clenched as if gripping a pair of mallets. That marked him as a gyil player. His grandfather played the instrument, a Ghanaian xylophone, as did his uncle. While his father didn’t play he loved to dance. So Woma grew up in a home full of music and dance. At 2 he was banging out the melodies he’d heard. His musical education began long before his formal “European” education. When he completed that, he headed to the capital city of Accra where he joined the National Dance Ensemble. The government brought together the best musicians from the country’s more than 60 ethnic regions. By the time President and Mrs. Clinton came to visit in 1998, he was the master drummer of the troupe. Clinton was intrigued by the enormous ceremonial drum, and quizzed Woma on what it was made from. Elephant hide, Woma replied. He also greeted the Obamas when they visited Ghana in 2009. He recalled that he was planning to come to the United States at that time, but the embassy said he needed to stay for the Obama visit. He even taught Sasha and Malia how to play the gyil. “It was privilege.” As master drummer he also welcomed South African President Nelson Mandela and Queen Elizabeth. With the founding of his school, Woma decided he needed to pursue graduate education. So he earned a master’s degree in African Studies from SUNY Fredonia and a master’s in ethnomusicology from the Indiana University. “It helped me understand the academic function of research to help students who want to study with me,” he said. “If I wanted to be a teacher, I had to learn myself about teaching and research.” Seven students have completed master’s theses and eight have completed doctoral dissertations based on their work at his academy. He now splits his time between Accra and Bloomington, Indiana. Back home, people still value the traditional music and dance. Because the troupe knows the styles of all the various ethnic groups, they can play for people who have moved to the city, but still long from the sounds of home. Woma shared insights into those traditions with the BGSU students. He said the gyil was made of tropical rosewood, dried gourds, and spider webs. “We send children out to gather them,” he…