Grantee Highlight: Okaidja Afroso Ghanaian Culture and Music Residency Ghanaian Music Visits Seward, Alaska

The Seward PTA received a $1,000 mini-grant to bring Ghanaian musician and cultural ambassador Okaidja Afroso to Seward for a week to conduct an artist residency at Seward Elementary School. His workshop, titled Dancing Feet and Talking Drums, was held in November 2019 and exposed Seward Elementary School students to Ghanaian culture, emphasizing music, rhythm, and dance. Also, Okaidja provided a single workshop for the students at Seward High School and an evening workshop for the public.

Okaidja Afroso was born into a family of musicians and storytellers in a village on the west coast of Ghana. His love for music began at a young age, passing the time singing a capella with the local fisherman and learning traditional sea songs. At the age of 19, he was accepted into the Ghana Dance Ensemble, kickstarting his career as a renowned dancer and percussionist. During his time touring internationally with the Ensemble, he began to teach himself the guitar, eventually forming a band and writing his own music. He has since written four albums and continues to tour around the world, performing his unique sound and dance and holding workshops.

Throughout Okaidja’s week at the elementary school, the students worked on their drumming skills together and learned about life in Africa. On Friday, 50 students from 2nd and 4th grade performed a concert in front of the entire school. It was evident the students enjoyed their experience with Okaidja. The following Monday, Seward Elementary teacher CJ Levine reported that many of the students walked into music class asking

excitedly, “Is Okaidja still here?” At the end of his week in Seward, Okaidja also performed a sold-out concert in front of 70 community members at Zudy’s Café.

The music programs at Seward Schools have dramatically reduced over the years from what they once were. A single teacher currently serves the elementary and middle schools, and the high school meets once a week during non-classroom hours. “This residency helped expose students to professional-level performing arts and music,” said Jenn Desermia, President of the Seward PTA. “It gave them a unique exposure to African culture.” The Seward PTA plans on providing more artist-in-residence programs in the future, with the timing depending on public health policies surrounding COVID-19.

If you’re searching for a way to escape Alaska’s cold, dark winter, be sure to listen to Okaidja Afroso’s latest album, “The Palm Wine Sea,” available for purchase or streaming on all major music platforms. It’s a great way to escape the darkness and cold of Alaska’s winters. Funding for this grant came from the Seward Community Foundation Fund.