WHO IS OKAIDJA:
Okaidja was born into a family of singers and songwriters in Ghana. His crippled uncle was the town’s notorious composer who spared no one with the songs he wrote about life in the township of Kokrobitey, a small fishing village on the west coast of Ghana. Okaidja’s mother, Atsiawa Owusu, was a colorful lead singer in the spiritual church she attended. Auntie Atsiawa’s powerful songs of praise gained her a warm reputation in the community and earned her the name “Mumor Mli Lalor,” which means “the spiritual singer.”
As a young boy Okaidja sang in churches and while he worked as a canoe boy on fishing boats on the weekends. Out on the fishing boats, the fishermen would sing a cappella songs as they worked, and Okaidja passed the long days learning the songs of the great Naaye (sea).
GHAWAFRICA DANCE ENSEMBLE:
Okaidja’s hunger to dance began after seeing the Ghawafrica Dance Ensemble training in his hometown. While watching them dance, something moved inside of him and he was intent on joining the group. After many attempts, he finally gathered up the courage to approach Odarkwei, the leader of the group. Odarkwei welcomed the young talent into the group and he became Okaidja’s first dance teacher. Dancing did not come as naturally to Okaidja as singing did, but what he lacked in talent he made up for with raw enthusiasm. Okaidja began to learn dances from myriad cultures throughout Ghana, which was a very challenging undertaking at first. The more he learned, the deeper his interest in studying native Ghanaian cultures grew. This tenacity to learn eventually earned Okaidja a position as assistant group leader and choreographer for Ghawafrica. As a leader he expanded the group’s repertoire by reaching out to teachers from diverse ethnic backgrounds and creating new choreographies for the dance company.
THE GHANA DANCE ENSEMBLE 1994:
By the age of 19, Okaidja was accepted as a professional dancer for the prestigious Ghana Dance Ensemble at the University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies. He became well known for his energetic stage presence and excelled in his performances of the Ga fetish dances that he learned from Odarkwei. During this time Okaidja was the only dancer with the Ghana Dance Ensemble who could perform Ga ritual dances and songs so impeccably.
The Ghana Dance Ensemble gave Okaidja the opportunity to study with the best teachers in the country such as the late Emeritus Professor A.M. Opoku. In 1997 Okaidja successfully choreographed a drum and dance piece entitled Jaku Mumor (Ancestral Spirit) for the company’s tour to the United States.
Upon his return from the 1997 U.S tour with the Ensemble, Okaidja was invited to teach drum and dance workshops in Germany. He traveled throughout Germany teaching Ghanaian music and dance. He came back to the Ghana Dance Ensemble in 1998, but not for long. Word about Okaidja’s talent and bright spirit was spreading through the dance world. At the same time, the legendary Obo Addy was looking for fresh, young talent to bring to his group in Portland, Oregon. One day after a grueling rehearsal with the Ensemble, Okaidja walked out of the auditorium and was met by Obo Addy. The two made an instant connection and soon Okaidja was packing his bags to move to the USA to work with Obo’s group, Okropong. Okaidja served as a principal dancer and gave memorable performances with Okropong at major festivals and performance venues such as the Kennedy Center, the Newmark Theater and the WOMAD Festival.
Okaidja decided to pursue a solo career as he began to receive requests to teach in various schools throughout the US. He began to travel to schools all over Oregon and Washington conducting workshops and residencies. Teachers and communities embraced Okaidja’s teaching of African music, culture, and dance. He developed strong ties with scores of schools by inspiring young people, especially in rural communities. He has partnered with the Central Oregon Arts Council, Young Audiences, Colombia Gorge Arts in Education, Eastern Oregon Arts Council, Southern Oregon Arts Council, the YWCA, Lewis and Clark College, Portland State University, Reed College, Portland Community College and countless others. He also teaches community music and dance classes for kids and adults throughout the year.
In 2005 Okaidja recorded his first solo album, The Traditionalist. This album is Okaidja’s interpretation of the folkloric songs he grew up singing. The listener is able to experience the rawness and emotions that he feels as he sings about his homeland. He followed with a second album, Obutu Apla. With Obutu Apla, Okaidja ventures away from the strictly traditional. Songs on this album highlight Okaidja’s impressive vocal abilities through his passion-filled lyrics that tell stories about love and life. This album was influenced by Okaidja’s inquiry into the African Diaspora. It contains elements of Afro-Cuban, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Peruvian, and Blues music. Okaidja collaborated with The Portland Symphony to compose a piece of music that he performed with them. He later performed the same piece with The Oregon Symphony.