When an event boasting “local African pop” floated across my Facebook newsfeed, I immediately clicked “attending” — to learn that St. John’s has not one, but two local bands exploring African rhythms and musical themes, was a very pleasant surprise.
A few friends were also intrigued by the event description, so we headed to The Ship on January 11 to explore the art of Dunungbe and Katapa.
Named for a Malenke (West African) rhythm that marks the beginning of a celebration, Dunungbe kicked off the first set of the night around 10:30 p.m.
The number of drums onstage outnumbered the five members of the percussion ensemble, an impressive sight on The Ship’s small stage.
Creating intricate rhythms with djembes (goblet-shaped hand drums) and doundouns (cylindrical drums, played with drumsticks), Dunungbe immediately entranced listeners, moving through soft and slow rhythms to frenzied and wild beats.
Coincidentally sitting next to band leader Anthony Tucker’s girlfriend, I got the lowdown on the band. Tucker, a drummer since age 10, apparently discovered the djembe after seeing a busker playing the hand drum in British Columbia a couple of decades ago. This interest led to Tucker studying under Guinea’s Malinke Master Drummer Fomoudou Konate.
Bandmate Erin Holland has a connection to Guinea, too — she studied dance in Guinea.
All Dunungbe members are passionate percussionists — Craig Penney has been studying African rhythms for seven years.
Tom Alteen founded Musubi Drum Circles in 2014, hosting public drum groups in the capital city and metro region, and MUN School of Music student Bert Power is a multi-talented percussionist, playing a broad range of genres.
Flying through a short but mighty set, Dunungbe wowed the crowd, inspiring loud cheers when Holland leapt off the stage and started busting out traditional Guinea moves on the dance floor.
The environment was wholly positive and inclusive, and though some may have been put off by a group of five white people playing African music, this didn’t feel like cultural appropriation.
Between bands, Jeik Kalunga Loksa, Angola-born Katapa lead singer and rhythm guitarist, remarked on how wonderful it is to see all kinds of people coming together to celebrate, appreciate and play African music.
African pop band Katapa were next to hit the stage, with Penney and Tucker of Dunungbe playing lead guitar and drums, Aneirin Thomas on bass, and Leni Smits providing backup vocals.
Playing upbeat and groovy songs, Katapa delivered a multicultural experience, playing French songs, a Sudani mambo, Nigerian music, “super reggae,” and more, inspiring the crowd to fill the dance floor and boogie down.
I later learned that Katapa was formed around six months ago, and has played less than a handful of shows, but this band was definitely not inexperienced — Loksa and Thomas have been playing together for 15 years, and after seeing Katapa’s set, I hope this band has another 15 years in it yet.
The crowd thinned out a bit by 12:30, both bands having played their first sets. We stuck around for another two hours, not wanting to miss Dunungbe and Katapa’s second sets.
I’m already anxious for the next local African pop show in St. John’s!