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Paschal YaoYounge

Paschal Yao Younge, associate professor of multicultural music education, has created a book and DVD set that tackles the topic of African music and dance.

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Associate professor spreads African music traditions


In Africa, there is no word for music. There is no definition.  There is not any guide to teach someone how to hit a drum or dance. The people rely on oral tradition and celebrations to explain their musical history.

Paschal Yao Younge, associate professor of multicultural music education, saw this lack of documentation, and the failed attempts of others, and decided to take on the daunting task of compiling everything into one book.

"I’ll read books about African dance and it's 99 pages on dance and one page on music," said Younge.  "They focus on the dance part, but that’s not what you saw. You saw drumming and singing and costumes. The dance and the drum are equal."

After 15 years of research and two years of writing, Younge will release his book “"Music and Dance Traditions of Ghana" and a 10 DVD set, "Dance-Drumming Ceremonies of Ghana."

The 400-page book goes into the intricate details of the different types of 22 traditional dances and performances by the Akan, Dagbamba, Ewe and Ga-Dangbe ethnic groups, including maps, diagrams of costumes and song and percussion scores.

Younge also provides the lyrics in the tribal languages and an English translation to allow readers to understand what the songs say and mean.

"If I want to respect the people, if I want to respect the art-form, if I want to respect what I see in the performance, then I had to cover all of these things," explained Younge.

Another goal of his was to explain the interdependency of culture and music in Africa that most ethnomusicologists exclude.

He pointed to a mask on his wall and said, "See that mask?  Let's call it 'Obama.' That can be the name of the dance, of the drumming and the music. Once you pull that mask out, everyone knows what it is and knows that it's a whole celebration. The minute you exclude that mask you are excluding part of the dance. The mask represents the whole performance."

The book also uses non-English characters and refers to different sections of the dances as "phases" instead of the more common word, "movement." This is because Younge believes that using terms typically associated with Western culture and music to explain African music is not accurate. 

"You cannot see the music of a different culture through the lens of the three B's (Brahms, Beethoven and Bach)," said Younge. "They had a different environment and a different perspective."

He explained that his frustration with the constant separation of African music, dance and traditions is what urged him to compile it all in one work.

"We talk about the interdisciplinarity of arts, but there is a lot of separation," explained Younge. "Why can't we capture this before it's gone? People that I have interviewed and shown in these DVDs have died."

The importance of his efforts to familiarize the Western world with African cultures has not gone unnoticed by others.

"The publication of Dr. Younge's text is the successful result of years of dedicated and tireless work," said Michael Parkinson, director of Ohio University's School of Music.  "This is a milestone to be celebrated not only by specialists in the fields of study internationally, but especially by the Ohio University community."

Younge's book can be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com and the DVD set at www.dance-drumming.com.