By Jessica Edwards:
If you passed a small yellow school bus with a license plate that read “onthesly”, which was filled with a group from Ghana, and driven by a stocky bearded hippie-like fellow named Griffin…would you guess they’d be coming home to Buffalo?
Over 10,000 miles, were put on that bus bought off of eBay to bring the music of the “Sly Drumming Ensemble” to colleges, schools, and festivals all over the U.S. This was all done by the most basic grassroots effort. Griffin Brady (founder of Slyboots School of Music) and Bernard Woma (musician from Ghana) called everyone they knew from friends to local school districts, and booked 99 shows in 49 days.
The Sly Drumming Ensemble is just a part of a greater collaborative effort to bring traditional West African music to the U.S., and WNY. Griffin created the Slyboots School of Music out of his own personal journey to find what his true calling and purpose was in life.
A few years ago, Griffin went to Syracuse for a “Day of Percussion” concert and there he met Bernard Woma, a musician who has played for Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, and has received awards from President Obama. He was looking for inspiration and after watching Bernard perform the Gyil (Ghanaian xylophone), he found it. Almost immediately, Griffin auditioned for the music program at Fredonia State College and was enrolled. Although, he later transferred to the Goddard School of Music to finish his B.A. and receive his M.A, the two kept in contact and were mutually beneficial. Bernard became a close mentor to Griffin, while Griffin was able to arrange for Bernard to teach lessons at SUNY Fredonia in exchange for student status.
At this time, Bernard was already an accomplished musician back home. He established the Dagara Music and Arts Center in Accra, Ghana. There he would arrange for musicians from all over Ghana to come together for concerts and celebrations. In 2000, Bernard invited Griffin to come join him and his family in their village of Medie. So, Griffin accepted the gesture and went to study the music and live with Bernard and his family.
Out of this adventure, came the idea to create a music school in Buffalo. Griffin wanted to create the same togetherness in this community, as he felt while in Ghana “a family minded idea”. After ½ dozen, multi-paged proposals, Griffin was able to convince the owner of 350 Ellicott Street to allow him to convert the space into a music school. The Slyboots School of Music is a 3-story assortment of music and dance lessons, instrument repairs, artist hostel, performance hall, recording studio, record release party venue, and rental space.
Griffin is currently planning the bi-annual trip to Ghana for this June. He is working on gathering donations from the community, to bring a group of 10 to 15 music students with him. It is a cultural exchange that will go beyond just learning the musical side of their village. Ghana is very rich in culture. The region has many ethnic groups, landscapes, history, and traditions. During their stay, these students will be exposed to daily chores, excursions, and being immersed in the community. Most of the students from Buffalo are inner city school children that would be getting a chance to encounter hands on learning, they might not otherwise see. This opportunity puts them in company with pretty impressive groups. Since Griffin’s first visit to Ghana, this educational experience has become popular with some of the most prestigious collegiate music programs in the U.S. The Berkley School of Music, Bowling Green University, and Fredonia have all developed programs to allow students to do a similar exchange program.
The “new global village” is a phrase that Griffin kept mentioning. There are struggles that both communities face. Just like Buffalo is losing some respected traditions, Ghana is also experiencing a wave of hip-hop and rap that seems to be washing over the traditional African values and music. It is the mission of the music schools to not only teach, but also preserve this amazingly intricate form of musical heritage.
Locally, their music is being well received. While performing at various events, they often have some of the largest lingering crowds. The music is very lively, and infectious. It is hard not to feel the passion and energy put into every beat of the drum, and song. In February, the Slyboots School of Music is booked for every single day. It is Black History Month, and they will be doing workshops and performing at Buffalo Public Schools.
Website: The Slyboots School of Music and Art