A master of traditional music of the Ga ethnic group, a creator of new works rooted in tradition, and a committed educator, Yacub Addy is the eldest living drummer in the renowned Addy family of drummers, singers, and dancers from Avenor, Accra, Ghana.
Addy is a son of Okonfo Akoto, a powerful wontse (won-che) or medicine man, and Akua Hagan, a lead singer in her husband's medicine music. He credits his elder brother Tetteh Koblah Addy (Akwei Wejei) as his primary drumming teacher.
In 1956, the year of Ghana's independence, Addy organized and led the first major staged performance of genuinely traditional Ghanaian music and dance at the Accra Community Center. He later formed the historic groups Ashiedu Ketrekre, which set a performance standard in Ghana in the 1960s, and Oboade, which became the first professional traditional Ghanaian group to tour in the West (1968-75). Addy's music took him from Ghana to Europe and America, where in 1982 he created the acclaimed performance ensemble Odadaa!, composed predominantly of Ga artists, which he leads to this day.
The classic Ga ensemble in America, Odadaa! performs traditional Ghanaian music and dance arranged and choreographed by Addy as well as new compositions. With Odadaa!, Addy also collaborated with artists of other traditions, creating concerts of new work with kora master Foday Musa Suso and jazz artists T.K. Blue and Stephon Harris. His most significant collaboration, with Wynton Marsalis, resulted in two projects, Africa Jazz, produced at Columbia College in 2003, and the ground-breaking co-composition Congo Square, which premiered in New Orleans in 2006 as a gift for the spiritual revival of the Crescent City.
Through his seminal ensembles, Addy trained numerous Ghanaian artists. In the 1960s in Accra, he identified Five Hand Drumming Techniques, a system to train non-Ghanaian students, copied by many instructors. He has taught widely in America, notably in the Washington State Cultural Enrichment Program; the Seattle Public Schools; Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington; Howard University in Washington, DC; and Rensselaer in Troy, New York. Since 1995, Addy has been a faculty member of the Music Department of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Addy's pioneering work has preserved and added significantly to the vibrant music and dance heritage of Ghana, and has maintained in the United States a standard of traditionalism rare in Ghana today. "The greatest Addy drummers were our deceased senior brothers, Tettey Kojo, Mankattah, Tettey Aku, Tetteh Koblah, and Emmanuel Tettey," says Yacub Addy. "None of them had names in show business. I don't agree with the western idea of stardom; it brings nothing but division. With God's help, I'm determined to stay true to my culture and speak the truth."
Music credit for Kolomashi: Arranged by Yacub Addy and performed by Yacub Addy and Odadaa!, from the album Yacub Addy's Odadaa! - Children of the Ancients (1999), used courtesy of Yacub Addy and Tetteh Aku Music (ASCAP).
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency
Yacub Addy talks about the origins of the song, "Hedzole Baba." Excerpt from “Hedzole Baba,” from the album, Congo Square, written by Yacub Addy and performed by Yacub Addy, Odadaa!, and Wynton Marsalis.
Yacub Addy with his ensemble Odadaa! performing "Bamai" and "Beduwe" as well as an "Improv with Wynton. Video courtesy of the artist.