Department of Music

Kwaku Kwaakye Martin Obeng

African Drums


Kwaku Kwaakye Obeng (KKO) is a well-renowned master drummer, composer, dancer, and educator originally from Ghana, West Africa who has worked internationally for the past 30 years. KKO began drumming at the age of five. He was appointed Royal Court Drummer for the high chief of the Aburi-Akuapim area of the Eastern Region. He later joined the National Arts Council Folkloric Ensemble where he performed diverse repertoire, and gained a far-reaching knowledge of the rich and varied music of Ghana. He toured the world as a cultural emissary with the Folkloric Ensemble. In 1981, he moved to the US where he soon joined the New England based Talking Drum Ensemble. In the US, KKO’s music has taken on new dimensions, representing not only the traditional drumming of his homeland, but creative fusions of drumming, Afropop, Afro-jazz, funk, reggae, and folk. He has also taught at Brown University since 1988, and a number of other institutions, devoting much of his time to educating students about African music and guiding them in learning to play intense and complex music.

Playing with lightning speed and an effortless power, KKO takes his audience on a journey that bridges cultures and creates connections. One of the distinct features of his playing style is his ability to produce beautiful melodies and textures on drums and other percussion. KKO’s music is also marked by the tight intertwining of traditional patterns with original rhythms and melodies, which results in a constant outpouring of unexpected sounds. He has released four recordings of his own compositions and arrangements of traditional pieces: Awakening, Sunsum (Spirit), Afrijazz, and Africa Moving Forward. Afrijazz was produced with support from the American Composers Forum, the McKnight Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. KKO has also played on a long list of other recordings, including The Othertet (with Taylor Ho Bynum, Bill Lowe, and Joe Morris), Some Day Catch Some Day Down (with Talking Drums in 1989, re-released in 2011), Roy Hargrove’s Hard Groove, Wadada Leo Smith’s Lake Biwa (along with Marc Ribot, Susie Ibarra, Craig Taborn, and John Zorn), Active Resonance with Bootsy Collins and Bill Laswell, Jay Hoggard’s The Right Place, Dan Zanes and Friends’ forthcoming CD, and the compilation Africa Never Stand Still. He composed the soundtrack for two documentary films: New England and the Civil War for Connecticut Public Television and Kings Must Dance for The Brooklyn Arts Council.

KKO has performed at a range of venues and festivals including the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (Dakar, Senegal in 2011), Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, Newport Jazz Festival, Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture, Village Vanguard, The Jazz Gallery, The International Festival of Arts and Ideas, Sweet Basil, The African Heritage Festival (Bahia-Salvador, Brazil), St. Lucia Jazz Festival, International Festival of Art (Puebla, Mexico), The One World Living Arts Festival (New Zealand), Odwira Festival (Ghana), The Flynn Theater (Burlington, VT), Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT), and the Black Repertory Theater (Providence, RI). He has shared the stage, and collaborated, with such luminaries as Max Roach, Ed Blackwell, Roy Hargrove, Jay Hoggard, Randy Weston, and Anthony Braxton. KKO has served as a faculty member at Brown University and Wesleyan University. He also taught workshops and masters classes at Rochester Institute of Technology, Boston College, NYU, Yale University, and Bryant University, among many other institutions.