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Music is African Showboyz passport to world's stages PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor   
Thursday, 23 May 2013 10:31
Napoleon Sabbah, founder of the percussion quartet African Showboyz, got mixed reviews from his elders about his desire to be a musician.
His father was opposed. "He wanted us to go to school," Sabbah said, speaking of himself and his brothers. "He loved us too much and wanted us to go to school."
In a recent telephone interview, Sabbah said: "I didn't like going to school."
What he wanted to do was learn to play the music he heard around his grandfather's abode, the traditional sounds of his people in northern Ghana. And his grandfather, an ancient man who ruled their tiny impoverished village, encouraged the boy.
"Every day when the king is sleeping there is music," Sabbah said. "When the king is eating there is music. Anything the king does there is music. That's how we learned music."
Sabbah in time recruited his  brothers, Isaac, Moses, Joseph and JJ, to join him to form the African Showboyz. They fashioned their early instruments from bones and hides given to their grandfather, the village king. From that humble start the Showboyz have reached out to play around the world.
The African Showboyz will take a break from their duties opening for the Mickey Hart Band to play a free show Saturday at 8 p.m. in Grounds for Thought, 174 S. Main St. Bowling Green.
Sabbah did more than mimic the sounds he heard. He decided to bring together all the traditional instruments that normally played alone and blended them into one sound.
At first he traveled to Ghana's capital Accra where he played on the beaches. "I saw black people loved it. I saw black people loved it," he said.
So he knew he was onto something.
As the band grew so did the territory they toured. In Africa all they had to do was show up at the border crossing and play. Their music was all the documentation they needed.
In 2000 they traveled to France and then Germany. They're first American appearance was in Virginia in 2003.
It was through a contact with legendary African musician Olatunji that the former Grateful Dead drummer Hart heard about the band.
Now the brothers are touring the eastern United States with Hart while picking up additional gigs of their own. They'll play with Hart in Thornville in central Ohio the night before the Bowling Green show. On the day of the interview the Showboyz were in California for a festival in Santa Cruz, and the next day they were scheduled to cross the continent for Hart shows in New England.
Sabbah said they love touring and meeting people and being exposed to different cultures.
And they enjoy the love for the music that audiences have demonstrated since they brought their music to larger audiences.
When they first played in Europe, though, Sabbah said, they were surprised by the enthusiasm of audiences. When he started playing rituals in his native village he could not imagine getting such a warm response from people from so far away. "We don't even dream about it. It was just a local custom."
His father had started to reconcile himself to his sons' vocation. Sabbah said he would use money he earned in Accra to buy clothes and shoes and bring them back to the village and give them to children. "And my father would weep."
Their father did not live to see his sons achieve international recognition. But before his death the brothers recorded some of their music, and their father listened to it. "My father was so happy, but he hid it. He didn't want people to know he was happy."
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 May 2013 10:34

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