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Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Tradition




Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Tradition will feature five master artists and their apprentices from the Arts Board's Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program.

Tickets are available through the Stoughton Opera HousePlease join us for this inaugural concert.

Performing will be:

Koffi Zoe Dogbevi was born in Lome, the capital of Togo. He is a member of the Ewe ethnic group, which spans sections of Togo, Ghana, and Benin. Koffi says he plays “true traditional drumming” with a goal to “make everyone dance.” When he moved to Madison in 2005, he connected with other Ewe in the area and they get together weekly at the Eagle Heights Community Center in Madison to drum, dance, and sing. They also play for entertainment at cultural festivals, funerals, marriages, birthdays, and other social gatherings. “When you play the drums, it helps you remember your country, your culture,” he explains. Koffi will perform with apprentices Homnaka Francine Akpandsa, Komi Jason Wodeke and brothers Marc Mlatawou and Toussaint Mlatawou.

Edi Kwasi Gbordzi was born in Accra, the capital of Ghana. He grew up with the sounds of drumming all around him. He learned in the traditional way, by listening to senior drummers and receiving support from them. In 1995 his dance skills earned him a place with the Ghana National Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana – Legon. As an ensemble member, he toured internationally and taught. Since moving to the United States he has continued to teach and perform. In 2003, he founded the Madison-based Atimevu Drum and Dance Ensemble, of which his apprentice, Lindsay Adjavor, is a member. Edi’s philosophy infuses his performances with an irresistible energy. “Performing and teaching the traditional drumming and dancing of my home country brings great joy into my life. It makes me happy and it makes others happy. That’s what we want in life.”

Frank Montano was born on the Red Cliff Ojibwe reservation and grew up in Milwaukee, learning the guitar and mandolin from his Mexican mariachi musician father. When he moved back to Red Cliff in 1978, Frank taught himself to play and make traditional Woodland Indian flutes. Frank uses the flute within his Ojibwe community and as a bridge across cultures. “What was told to me about the flute and the music is that it would help a lot of people, and help people to come together to understand each other, of all nations.” Frank’s apprentice Richard LaFernier, also of Red Cliff, will perform with him.

Vanitha Suresh was born in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, the Indian state on the southeastern tip of the subcontinent. She began learning Carnatic music at age 9, first on a stringed instrument and then vocally. Carnatic music is a traditional classical music of South India dating back at least 2,500 years. Learning the intricacies of this expressive art form can be a life-long journey, for herself and for her young apprentices. Vanitha’s apprentices come from the south Indian community around Madison. “This traditional art form is of great value in serving as a way for second generation kids to connect with their roots.” Performing with her will be apprentices Amit Rajesh and Srihari Gopalan as well as her son, Sanjay Suresh.

Vong Yang was born in Xiengkhouang, Laos.  He is a master qeej player, having first learned when he was 10 years old. The traditional Hmong qeej is a free reed instrument of six curved bamboo pipes. Its playing often is accompanied with dance and acrobatic movements. It is a vitally important instrument in Hmong culture used in key ritual events like funerals. In Sheboygan, the Hmong Mutual Assistance Association and the Qeej Society are working to ensure that the next generation of Hmong-Americans has the needed knowledge to continue playing the qeej. Vong Yang will perform with two apprentices, Meng Yang and Jason Yang and four additional qeej performers. Uniquely, three young women will play this typically male instrument.

All of these featured artists served as Master Artists in WAB’s Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program in year-long projects that concluded in June 2014.

WAB’s Folk Arts Apprenticeships are designed to strengthen and preserve Wisconsin's heritage by supporting direct passage of knowledge and skills embedded in traditional arts that are important to a cultural community in Wisconsin. The Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program is an annual competitive grant program that supports respected master traditional folk artists in teaching their skills to committed and talented apprentices of their own choosing. WAB was one of the first states in the nation to work with the National Endowment for the Arts in creating a statewide apprenticeship program, starting in 1984. The National Endowment for the Arts continues to fund this work in Wisconsin and is a financial supporter of the 2015 concert.


WAB is partnering with the Stoughton Opera House on the “Wisconsin Folks: Masters of Tradition” concert. The historic and beautifully restored Stoughton Opera House is known for sublime acoustics and early 20th century aesthetic. It has earned the moniker “the most charming theater in southern Wisconsin.” It is located on Main Street in Stoughton, a town that regularly and enthusiastically celebrates its own cultural heritage.