Monday, August 6, 2012

Agbadja Music & Dance - Gbessi Zolawadji

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post presents information about Agbadja (Agbadza) music & dance. This post also showcases five videos of Benin, West Africa Agbadja vocalist Gbessi Zolawadji and his group of musicians, vocalists, and dancers.

The content of this post is presented for recreational, folkloric, educational, and aesthetic purposes.

All rights to this material remain with their owners.

"The Famous Ewe Rhythm And Dance.

It's probably Agbadza, if there's only one traditional rhythm you remember upon return from Ghana or Togo. To tourists without any knowledge of Ewe drumming, this fun piece is simply known as "the chicken dance". You'll know why when you see it!...

Today, Agbadza is a very popular recreational dance. It entertains people at funerals, weddings and any other get-together or party. Even the modern bands in the cities like to incorporate this fun rhythm into their music.

Some traditional Ewe dances are reserved to people of a certain age group or religion. But any child, woman or great-grandfather is welcome to dance Agbadza.

The name itself means something like "for everybody". If you ever get a chance to attend a traditional Ewe event, even you, a foreign visitor, will be expected to dance.

Despite the first impression, the background of this dance isn't all that fun. Before the Ewe people were able to settle in the beautiful Volta Region of Ghana and in Southern Togo, they went through tough times of war and oppression: They had to fight their way to freedom.

To train and encourage their warriors, the Ewe played various war dances, one of them called Atrikpui. In the 1920s, after the Ewe had enjoyed a period of peace, this serious dance turned into the fun and entertaining Agbadza that we know today."

From "Ewe Abgadza dance from Ghana's Volta Region"; uploader comment: katameemee on Nov 21, 2010
"...the Agbadza, is traditionally a war dance but is now used in social and recreational situations to celebrate peace. War dances are sometimes used as military training exercises, with signals from the lead drum ordering the warriors to move ahead, to the right, go down, etc. These dances also helped in preparing the warriors for battle and upon their return from fighting they would act out their deeds in battle through their movements in the dance."

...there are different styles of agbadza from place to place. some traditional believers have another tempo and variation but it doesn't make either real nor fake...
-blackvolta; May 2012

From "Benin Roots-Alekpehanhou and Gbessi"
-Matthew Lavoie, February 4th, 2010
"Koffi Albert Bessanvi was born, in 1952, into a family of musicians, in the small fishing village of Djegbadji, located on the shores of the lagoon that spreads north from the Atlantic port of Ouidah; which was a center of the Portuguese and Dahomean slave economy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Koffi grew up listening to his father’s performances of ‘Avogan’, a social dance for nobles, but was more attracted to the youthful rhythms of Agbadja; a style of music that he discovered in the village of ‘Oumako’, located in the Mono department.

Koffi started his career in his early twenties and made his ‘major league’ debut in 1976, sharing a bill with many of the country’s most popular cultural artists at Cotonou’s ‘Palais des Congres’. Koffi’s talent brought him success and a nickname; for the last thirty years he has been known to Agbadja fans in Benin, Togo, and Ghana as Gbessi Zolawadji, which can be roughly translated from the Mina language as ‘the beautiful voice that brings everyone together’.

Gbessi has released fourteen cassettes, performed in Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Togo and South Africa, where in 2001 he won the Kora award for best traditional artist of the year...

Although Gbessi’s group is built around the same rhythmic core as other Agbadja groups, he has not been afraid to frame his rhythms with horn lines or piano harmonies."

(These videos are presented in no particular order.)

Video #1: Agbadja, Gbessi Zolawadji

Uploaded by Chapeauson on Jan 25, 2010

Tous mes Respects à Gbessi Zolawadji et ses talentieux chorégraphes.Notre tradition fait notre force!!!

Video #2: Togo- GBESSI - Gnaho (traditionnel Agbadja)

Uploaded by BIGDAVOLK on May 24, 2008

togo music tradi

Video #3: Nonvitcha à Grand Popo, agbadja avec gbessi zolawadji

Uploaded by nicolebeninoa on Apr 15, 2008

Nonvitcha à Grand popo, Bénin, Agbadja avec Gbessi zolawadji, king mensah, fatiou akplogan.

Video #4: BENIN - GBESSI ZOLAWADJI - Noulagnon

Uploaded by kandevie on Jun 4, 2008

GBESSI national,mono rhytm

Video #5: BENIN - GBESSI ZO. - APE

Uploaded by kandevie on Oct 13, 2008

music traditionel, mono, africa

Here's a comment from this video's viewer comment thread:
The lyrics of this song say: "It is true that man is more important than money. I called money, but it not respond. When I called on man, he responded". These lyrics encapsulate/emphasise the African communal spirit.

In the background, is the shrine of Mamiwata (lady with big snakes/Sea Maiden), the goddess of the sea/river, a very important divinity in all West Africa. The dance routing executed here is very complex but the dancers make it look easy. The Agbadja music is culturally very rich.
-koudry ; 2010

RELATED LINK Traditional Music Videos Of Benin West African Music

Thanks to Gbessi Zolawadji, and the musicians, singers, and dancers who performed in these featured videos. Thanks also to the videographers, video uploaders, and commenters who I have quoted on those video's comment threads.

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.

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