Monday, August 5, 2013

Akoma Arts / Keith Hames

Name: Akoma Arts / Keith Hames

What do you do?
I am the founder and Artistic Director of Akoma Arts and I feel my mission is to create and leave a legacy of African and African American culture in the South Bay. Our organization’s name "Akoma" comes from the Akan language, the principal language of Ghana in West Africa. It means patience, endurance, consistency, and faithfulness. To say that one has his heart in his stomach is to say that one is very tolerant. The Adinkra symbol for Akoma is the "Heart" I went a step farther by adding “Arts” to the name to signify that we are a group of artist.  “Art from the Heart”, I like to say.

Akoma Arts comprises musicians, singers, dancers, actors and visual artists whose mission it is to help bring together the various South Bay communities through music and art. During a performance we take our audiences through several levels of emotions and environments, from the African Village, through the Middle Passage to the African Diasporas’ of the North and South American and the Caribbean experience by utilizing drumming, dance, praise songs, acting, spoken word, folk songs and spirituals. Our message is positive, mindful, and intentionally promotes community healing and unity. As drum master Mamady Keita informs, “it is always about the intent of the drummer.” We include when time permits, student Dogon Mask making and drum building using household items, 

We were established in May of 2011 and is currently operating as 501c3 non-profit organization, with our fiscal sponsor being the San Jose Multicultural Artist Guild or SJMAG. We are structured as a service-oriented business and our approach and services are new and innovative. New and innovative describes the breadth of services, but also the core values of the organization.

Akoma Arts is deeply involved in the business of the drum; we teach drumming, educate, inform and perform using the drum. We also plan to be a resource for the therapeutic aspects of drumming. The present business outlook is dynamic and only gated by our imaginations and resources. The Drumming industry while fairly new is related to traditions that go back to the 11th Century.

Our vision is large and comprises what we’ve identified as three primary customers, Drum and Performance, Therapy and Corporate, Drum and Performance, Therapy and Corporate.

Where can we find your work?
Afro-Fitness Classes Three Times per Week ALL With Live Drumming!

Tuesday Night
Edenvale Community Center Afro-Fitness
7pm -8pm Cost $10. Drop-In Registration
330 Branham Lane East, San Jose, CA. 95111

Thursday Night
Alma Community Center West African Drumming
6:45 - 7:45pm $10 Drop-In Registration
Afro-Fitness Dance 7:45 - 8:45pm $10 Drop-in Registration
136 West Alma Ave, San Jose, CA. 95110
Only $15. for both classes

Saturday Morning
Hoover Community Center Afro-Fitness Dance
10:00 - 11:00am $10 Drop-in Registration
1677 Park Ave. San Jose, CA. 95126
@ the Corner of Park Ave. and Naglee Ave.

What inspires you to create and how do you keep motivated when things get tough?
Inspiration comes from the need to help create, and leave a legacy of African and African American Culture with the people of San Jose. As of yet, and though there are many people and organizations in the South Bay pointed in the same direction, there is not a formal African or African American Cultural Center in San Jose where the Arts can be learned and utilized as shared inspiration. This my dream from 35,000 feet.

What do you think is more important content/finished product or technique/process?  
I feel like intention is most important. The artist intention is what you feel when you hear the music, when you see the art work, when you hear the spoken word. We must always check ourselves as artist and ask “what is on our hearts” Those emotions are intangible and is what everyone feels, but in most cases cannot or do not verbalize. To answer your question directly, there is much to be learned from going through the process, it has to be 1a in my opinion. We never seem to be finished with artwork, we simply stop at some point, but the process continues and refines itself through each artistic opportunity.

Who are some people who influence and/or inspire you?
I am still heavily influenced by Bob Marley’s lyrics and Babatunde Olatunji openness and vision of the drum, neither created the genre, but both took it to an international level. Both have carried forward the message of one love and unity and shared their message openly with the world. The world, my world is a better place because of them. I am also inspired by people that are totally committed to what they do. Most importantly and as I get older I am appreciating my parents more and more, I didn’t realize in my youth that I was forming this artistic insight, or that they were steering and supporting every step that I was taking, they have all my love! Lastly, there is absolute truth in the saying, “you are who your friends are” choose wisely and their positive influence can lift you and carry you through the low moments.

If you could be any fictional character who would you be?
I would truly love to be Superman! A Superman that really stands for the principals that he espoused for years, “truth, justice and the American Way.” I would surely be perceived as a villain in this society, because there is little, truth and justice in this world, from my viewpoint. And the American way is also filled with negatives that must be corrected.

When do you get your best ideas?
My best ideas come in two forms. 1. In the heated unconscious moment of the creative process and in the relaxation of a shower in the morning. If I go to bed with a creative dilemma, I will normally wake up with a new approach or idea to the solve the problem as I’m singing in the shower.

What materials/tools do you use most to create your work?
I use traditional music primarily, both African drum rhythms and African American Folksongs and Spirituals.
The creative process comes in combining this rhythms with nu school sensibilities. Most of the music is not written and we don’t use piano’s and guitars, so the ear becomes the most valued tool and the hardest to train.

Are you self-taught or formally educated? How do you think that has influenced or affected your work?
I have been formally trained in both voice and by Master drummers, but I also like to think of myself as being self-taught. I say that because African drumming is normally not written on lead sheets in the villages of Africa and I have yet to see anyone singing written notes in those same village settings, from Mali to Cuba, it’s simply learned through repetition and mentorship. So growing up in the US I got trained in School and in Church only to teach and play it all by ear at this point.

What would your creative work taste like?
Sweet Potato Pie! Soul Food with traditional African and African American ingredients and full of flavor. And also happens to be my favorite dessert.

When you are not creating what do you like to do?
When are we not creating? The closest I get is sleeping, ha! I a firm believer in the power nap. I have a 14 month old Granddaughter that nearly has me trained. My 18 year old daughter is turning into a trusted ally and most of been here two or three times before because here viewpoint and wisdom are exceptional, so extended talks with her are a blessing.

How did you learn to access your creative talents and gain the confidence to put it out there for everyone to experience?
I was encouraged early in my life by my parents to start a band and I’ve been bitten by the stage bug since I was 12, but a very strange thing happened when I moved to San Jose from Harrisburg PA at age 18. Instead of becoming a full time musician, I went to work in Silicon Valley to achieve the American dream. I now have a achieved the dream and the debt, lol, but finally woke up to my real passion. Serving the community and being part of the community. I have finally taken what has been practiced with what has come naturally, what has been developed from years on the stage, and my need to see the community grow its artistic roots in the South Bay and created Akoma Arts. The obligation I feel to uplift the community gives me confidence to face the day!

What advice would you give others just beginning their creative adventures? 
"Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out." Even when you think you’re not doing enough, if it’s all that you can do, keep moving forward!