Performing on the stage of the Libby Memorial Events Center Thursday, Nov. 8 at 7 p.m. is Okaidja, a unique talent originally from the small African nation of Ghana. His sound is a spicy fusion of spirited Ghanaian music with diverse cross-cultural influences.
Okaidja was born into a family of musicians and storytellers in the village of Kokrobite on the country’s west coast. He began his career as a dancer with the celebrated Ghana Dance Ensemble. As he toured internationally, he expanded his artistic reach by becoming a master multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter and arranger.
Okaidja’s uncle was the town’s notorious composer who spared no one with the songs he wrote about life in their small fishing village. Okaidja’s mother was a colorful lead singer in her spiritual church. Her powerful songs of praise earned her the name “the spiritual singer.” As a young boy Okaidja sang while he worked on fishing boats. The fishermen would sing a cappella songs as they worked, and Okaidja passed the long days learning the songs of the great sea.
At the age of 19, Okaidja was accepted as a professional dancer for the prestigious Ghana Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies. He became well known for his energetic stage presence and excelled in his performances of the Ga fetish dances. The Ghana Dance Ensemble gave Okaidja the opportunity to study with the best teachers in the country.
In 1997 Okaidja toured the Unites States with the Ensemble. Later on that year he traveled solo throughout Germany teaching Ghanaian music and dance before moving to the U.S. to join Okropong, a traditional Ghanaian music and dance group directed by Obo Addy.
Okaidja’s first album, “The Traditionalist,” is his raw and emotional interpretation of the folkloric songs he grew up singing. His career shifted as he began to do extensive research into the connections between Ghanaian music and the music of the African Diaspora. Out of this passionate inquiry, his band Okaidja and Shokoto was formed. Through Shokoto, Okaidja created music that draws from multiple cultural influences from the past and the present. The result was a dynamic fusion of traditional and contemporary African rhythms with the diverse music of the African Diaspora.
After dancing and playing percussion for so many years, Okaidja followed his soul’s calling and taught himself how to play the guitar. Learning completely on his own and through his relentless desire to play his unique style of music, Okaidja inadvertently created a guitar style that is so distinct that many accomplished guitarists tell him to avoid formal training so he does not lose his pure, inimitable sound.
The guitar brought out a different sound and inspired Okaidja to write songs unlike anything he had created before. His album “Messenger” reflects the journey that he has been on as a messenger, carrying communication between the traditional world of his native homeland and the contemporary landscape of this modern-day. Okaidja’s songs tell the stories of his people and follow their journeys through the disparate lands where they were scattered. It is an album that speaks to the soul. Okaidja continues to break new ground as he combines musical genres to conjure up songs that are truly unique. In his album, “Where’s the One?” the essence of Ghana’s Gold Coast is intertwined with the deep roots of folk and blues music of North America.
As Okaidja’s joyous, tragic and uplifting music has developed over the years, it embodies the vast perfect/imperfect shared human story.
Be sure to experience this unique performer. Libby Middle High School students will enjoy this cultural opportunity during a special Outreach Program assembly earlier in the day. The program is a feature that the Kootenai Heritage Council provides for the enrichment of cultural background for students in the local schools at no expense to taxpayers. For some students this is the first, and possibly only, opportunity to experience these musical influences up close and personal.
Tickets are $12 at the door or $10 if purchased in advance at any of these local ticket outlets: Cabinet Books, Libby Area Chamber of Commerce, Homesteaders Farm and Ranch, Rivermist, Western News, Mountain Meadows or Rocky Mountain Music. In Troy, stop by Booze ‘n Bait.
Students are admitted free when accompanied by a paying adult. A season series pass can be purchased for only $50 and can be used as the ticket holder chooses.
Enjoy an evening as Okaidja, a dynamic vocalist, a gifted multi-instrumentalist and an exultant dancer, combines his native rhythms with unforeseen pairings of musical flavors.
Patty Rambo is a Kootenai Heritage Council member.