If you’ve been lucky enough to sample African dance and drumming in Boulder, you’ve likely encountered Maputo Mensah. Whether you’re a student at CU, Naropa, one of Boulder’s K-12 schools, Kakes Studios, or even if you’ve just been to the Creek Festival, you know his infectious, inclusive virtuosity and mega-watt smile.
What you may not know is his larger mission. Each summer, Maputo takes a group of students — from Boulder and beyond — to his home town of Kokrobite, Ghana. They spend a month there, deeply immersed in the art and culture of West Africa, learning African dance, drumming, singing, and storytelling from the best.
But there’s a problem. Venues for arts education have become scarce in Ghana. Kokrobite was once home to the Academy of African Music and Arts (AAMA), which drew local and international students and artists like Stevie Wonder, Isaac Hayes, Rita Marley, and Steve Coleman. Maputo himself studied and taught there for 14 years. But AAMA and other such centers are no more, and now, when Maputo arrives with his students and begins teaching in makeshift spots around town, the local kids beg him to teach them, too.
Doing so is his great dream. Today’s kids in Ghana are in danger of losing touch with their own cultural heritage, and all it can offer them. The traditional arts of Africa are far more than entertainment; they teach values, cooperation, and respect. They are for solace and celebration, and they bond communities in deep ways. Maputo could have followed poverty down self-destructive paths, but instead he used the arts to forge a better one. He wants to give others that same chance.
The Akpe Cultural Center is the in-progress realization of Maputo’s dream. Fueled by small donations, the 12,000 square-foot facility is well underway. When complete, it will have the only suspended, resilient dance floor in the area, a magnet for both teaching and performance. It will also have accommodations for 40 international and non-resident students and artists. When it opens, Boulder students will be among the first to study there.
On Saturday, May 11, at 7:00 p.m., the award-winning film Liyana will be screened at the Boulder Public Library’s Canyon Theater to benefit the Akpe Cultural Center. The filmmakers and Maputo will both be on hand for Q&A afterward. Tickets are $15 at the door or at akpeculturalcenter.com.