News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 8, 2019: Guyana master drummer, African Caribbean cultural advocate, the king of Shanto music and herbalist, Menes de Griot, also known as Baba Mpho, is set to receive a 2019 Caribbean Impact Award from the Caribbean Life newspaper on November 14th in Brooklyn, NY.
Born in Georgetown, Guyana to Urma Woseley and Guyanese
musician Art Sebastian Broomes before migrating to the US in the 1970s, Menes
de Griot was raised in the African tradition, growing up in a culture of
drumming in Guyana with his grandmother Cicely in the Komfa tradition.
“I honed my drumming skills listening to not only the
African drums but the Indian drums at weddings, Chinese drums, masquerade
drums, Salvation Army drums, pans at the Quo Vadis pan yard and the Police and
Army drum corps,” said Menes de Griot. “In the Komfa tradition, because of the
various ceremonies, including the all-nation ceremony, the drummers play
rhythms that are found in the varied ethnic groups in Guyana. So, I was raised
up immersed in this tradition.”
He continued in the tradition after
migrating to the US, following his mother into Mother Patsy’s spiritual church
in Brownsville Brooklyn, NY, playing the drums and teaching some of the youth.
Menes de Griot soon after joined the US Navy and served as a medic, after
attending Hospital Corp School in Great Lakes Illinois Chicago. During his tour
in the U.S. military, he continued to play the drums on the base, which led to
him always being called on by his fellow sailors to do drumming, even using tabletops,
bunks etc. when there were no actual drums available.
After serving four years in the Navy,
Menes moved to Washington, D.C. He lived there for 10 years, meeting the late
Tom Charles, a close friend of his father and the creator of the boom beat for
Guyana’s independence in 1966 and a proponent of Creolic, a fusion of standard
jazz and Shanto rhythm.
“Tom Charles helped me to become a
better drummer, teaching me other formal techniques and structures and was my
mentor until his passing,” Menes explained. “While living in D.C., I
was a member of Evergreen Production, a cultural group that was very steeped in
the African Guyanese tradition, travelled around the country playing and
singing folks songs as well as original pieces.”
Menes de Griot said he was then recruited by Wayne Yorke, a native of
Trinidad and Tobago, to serve as the master drummer and storyteller of La
Musical Dance Works. As members, they toured throughout the D.C., Maryland and
Virginia areas, playing at many colleges and universities as well at the
Kennedy Center, the Red Skins and the Baltimore stadiums and were a part of
Mayor Marion Barry Youth Summer program – the DC Art Works.
moved to New York in 1992 and began playing at the United Spiritual Church and launched
a youth program, passing along his knowledge of drumming, African and Caribbean
culture and dance. The young group
played at many community events, including in schools and at senior centers
even as Menes de
Griot became a member of the People of the Sun Collective, of which he remains
is one of the national spokespersons and the Keeper of the Drums for the Spirit
of the Ancestors, an annual event done in the past 30 years to pay tribute to
the ancestors of the Middle Passage.
In 2002, Baba played for South
Africa’s leading designer Sister BucksMaise Mosimane in Brooklyn, during
one of her shows at Medgar Evers College and was invited to South Africa. In South Africa, he ended up modeling and
playing at South Africa’s Fashion Week among other locations. While there, he
made a trip to Venda to obtain the Ngoma drums. He met with the Sangoma or
traditional priest and was then initiated into the Sangoma tradition while also
securing four drums, all handmade by the Sangoma. One was the Trinity Ngoma,
which is played on three sides and is believed to be the only one in the world.
On his return, he made it a
commitment to continue to pass on the tradition of the African culture and the
drums to the youth in the Caribbean across the US. In 2016, he took his Shanto group
and some youth on a Spiritual journey to celebrate Guyana’s 50th
independence celebration, playing in the three different counties and pouring
libation. The Oku drums were the featured instruments used. Those drums were
played by the Yoruba ancestors in Guyana and are known in Trinidad and Tobago
as Orisha drums.
Today, he continues to be a source
of inspiration to the youth, passing along the African cultural tradition he
has learnt as a youth himself and using the drums also as a healing tool as
part of his healing rituals performed during natural childbirth.
award he says: “I’m very grateful and appreciative of this award, which has
been given to me and by extension, my Shanto family. It is an acknowledgement
of the work we have been doing in the community as healers and cultural
stewards for many decades.”
Menes is married to Mama Nyaah, who
is also a partner in his work. His grandson Rasheed is following in his
tradition, graduating from the Berklee College of Music and is now teaching
music at a Brooklyn Public School. He can be reached at 718 342 6257 address or
at Cosmic Enterprise at 147 Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn NY 11233.
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