It’s an unlikely thing for a drummer studying Ghanaian rhythms to have never heard of Abraham Adzenyah. Besides having taught drumming to thousands of students at Wesleyan University for 47 years, Adzenyah was a master drummer with the Ghana National Dance Ensemble, played with stars like Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria and Dizzy Gillespie, and coauthored the seminal West African Rhythms for Drumset with Royal Hartigan and Freeman Donkor. I first learned about Adzenyah when a teacher shared this excellent book with me, a book that was one of the first to adapt and notate traditional Ghanaian rhythms to drum set. The Afropop connection to him lies even deeper: Our founders, Banning Eyre and Sean Barlow, are Wesleyan grads and learned from Adzenyah when they were students. His teaching inspired Sean to study in Ghana, which was a beginning step on the way to the creation of Afropop Worldwide. Suffice to say, Adzenyah has played a tremendous role in communicating Ghanaian music to America and beyond, and in the growth of Wesleyan’s renowned world music program.
Adzenyah is retiring this year. Wesleyan University is honoring him well: The building formerly known as Center for the Arts Rehearsal Hall was last week renamed Abraham Adzenyah Rehearsal Hall. On May 7, the hall presented a dedication ceremony, a reunion for students of Adzenyah from the past 47 years, and a farewell concert featuring Wesleyan’s drumming and dance ensembles, as well as Ghanaian drum ensembles from several New England colleges. This is the first time a United States university building has been named after an African drummer. As well as the dedication of the hall, alumni, students and friends raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish the Abraham Adzenyah Endowed Wesleyan Scholarship.
Our best wishes to Adzenyah in his retirement! Let’s hope that thousands more students will be inspired by his legacy and learn to drum in Abraham Adzenyah Rehearsal Hall. See Wesleyan’s write-up about the dedication ceremony here.