Date of Birth: April 15, 1931
Time of Birth:
Place of Birth: Avenor
Yacub Addy, born on April 15, 1931, and passing away on December 18, 2014, was a highly influential Ghanaian traditional drummer, composer, choreographer, and educator, leaving an indelible mark on both his native culture and the global music scene. Recognized as "the leading ambassador of Ghanaian music and culture," his life's work encompassed collaborations with various musicians, including the renowned Wynton Marsalis.
Born into the Ga ethnic group in the village of Avenor, outside of Accra, Ghana, Addy's upbringing was immersed in rhythmic music integrated into healing and other rituals by his father, Jacob Kpani Addy ("Okonfo Akoto"), a wonche or medicine man. As a teenager, Addy began playing the adowantsre drum, a supporting drum used in his father's medicine music, under the guidance of his older brother Tetteh Koblah Addy ("Akwei Wejei").
Addy's career as a performer gained prominence in 1956 when he organized and led the first major staged performance of traditional Ghanaian music and dance, founding the group Ashiedu Ketrekre. The group played a pivotal role in introducing traditional Ghanaian music to diverse audiences, including performances at Ghanaian hotels, political funerals, and even on Ghanaian television during a visit by then-First Lady of the United States Pat Nixon.
In 1968, Addy formed the ensemble Oboade, the first professional traditional Ghanaian ensemble to tour in the West from 1972 to 1975. Afterward, the Addy family moved to Seattle in 1975, where Yacub found work performing and teaching. In 1982, while living in the Washington, D.C. area, he founded the ensemble Odadaa!, which remained active for decades, blending traditional Ghanaian music and dance with collaborations across various artistic traditions.
Addy's contributions as a performer extended to collaborations with Wynton Marsalis. Their projects, including "Africa Jazz" and "Congo Square," fused jazz with the musical traditions of the Ga people in Ghana. Despite challenges, including the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, their collaborations resulted in performances across the U.S. and Canada, leaving a lasting impact on the appreciation of African rhythms in jazz.
As an educator, Addy trained numerous Ghanaian musicians and developed the Five Hand Drumming Techniques, a method initially designed for non-Ghanaian students. He offered workshops and taught at various institutions, including Skidmore College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.
In recognition of his immense contributions, Addy was honored with a 2010 National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor in the folk and traditional arts awarded by the U.S. government.
Yacub Addy passed away at the age of 83, succumbing to a heart attack on December 18, 2014, while following an ambulance transporting his wife to the hospital. His legacy lives on through his extensive body of work, his impact on traditional Ghanaian music, and his role as a cultural ambassador connecting different musical traditions.