Guyana Master Drummer Up For Caribbean Impact Award

Guyana master drummer, African Caribbean cultural advocate, the king of Shanto music and herbalist, Menes de Griot, also known as Baba Mpho.
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News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 8, 2019: Guyana master drummer, African Caribbean cultural advocate, the king of Shanto music and herbalist, Menes de Griot, also known as Baba Mpho, is set to receive a 2019 Caribbean Impact Award from the Caribbean Life newspaper on November 14th in Brooklyn, NY.

Born in Georgetown, Guyana to Urma Woseley and Guyanese musician Art Sebastian Broomes before migrating to the US in the 1970s, Menes de Griot was raised in the African tradition, growing up in a culture of drumming in Guyana with his grandmother Cicely in the Komfa tradition.

“I honed my drumming skills listening to not only the African drums but the Indian drums at weddings, Chinese drums, masquerade drums, Salvation Army drums, pans at the Quo Vadis pan yard and the Police and Army drum corps,” said Menes de Griot. “In the Komfa tradition, because of the various ceremonies, including the all-nation ceremony, the drummers play rhythms that are found in the varied ethnic groups in Guyana. So, I was raised up immersed in this tradition.”

He continued in the tradition after migrating to the US, following his mother into Mother Patsy’s spiritual church in Brownsville Brooklyn, NY, playing the drums and teaching some of the youth.

Menes de Griot soon after joined the US Navy and served as a medic, after attending Hospital Corp School in Great Lakes Illinois Chicago. During his tour in the U.S. military, he continued to play the drums on the base, which led to him always being called on by his fellow sailors to do drumming, even using tabletops, bunks etc. when there were no actual drums available.

After serving four years in the Navy, Menes moved to Washington, D.C. He lived there for 10 years, meeting the late Tom Charles, a close friend of his father and the creator of the boom beat for Guyana’s independence in 1966 and a proponent of Creolic, a fusion of standard jazz and Shanto rhythm.

“Tom Charles helped me to become a better drummer, teaching me other formal techniques and structures and was my mentor until his passing,” Menes explained. “While living in D.C., I was a member of Evergreen Production, a cultural group that was very steeped in the African Guyanese tradition, travelled around the country playing and singing folks songs as well as original pieces.”

Menes de Griot said he was then recruited by Wayne Yorke, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, to serve as the master drummer and storyteller of La Musical Dance Works. As members, they toured throughout the D.C., Maryland and Virginia areas, playing at many colleges and universities as well at the Kennedy Center, the Red Skins and the Baltimore stadiums and were a part of Mayor Marion Barry Youth Summer program – the DC Art Works.

He later moved to New York in 1992 and began playing at the United Spiritual Church and launched a youth program, passing along his knowledge of drumming, African and Caribbean culture and dance.  The young group played at many community events, including in schools and at senior centers even as Menes de Griot became a member of the People of the Sun Collective, of which he remains a member.

Today, he is one of the national spokespersons and the Keeper of the Drums for the Spirit of the Ancestors, an annual event done in the past 30 years to pay tribute to the ancestors of the Middle Passage.

In 2002, Baba played for South Africa’s leading designer Sister BucksMaise Mosimane in Brooklyn, during one of her shows at Medgar Evers College and was invited to South Africa. In South Africa, he ended up modeling and playing at South Africa’s Fashion Week among other locations. While there, he made a trip to Venda to obtain the Ngoma drums. He met with the Sangoma or traditional priest and was then initiated into the Sangoma tradition while also securing four drums, all handmade by the Sangoma. One was the Trinity Ngoma, which is played on three sides and is believed to be the only one in the world.

On his return, he made it a commitment to continue to pass on the tradition of the African culture and the drums to the youth in the Caribbean across the US. In 2016, he took his Shanto group and some youth on a Spiritual journey to celebrate Guyana’s 50th independence celebration, playing in the three different counties and pouring libation. The Oku drums were the featured instruments used. Those drums were played by the Yoruba ancestors in Guyana and are known in Trinidad and Tobago as Orisha drums.   

Today, he continues to be a source of inspiration to the youth, passing along the African cultural tradition he has learnt as a youth himself and using the drums also as a healing tool as part of his healing rituals performed during natural childbirth.

Of the award he says: “I’m very grateful and appreciative of this award, which has been given to me and by extension, my Shanto family. It is an acknowledgement of the work we have been doing in the community as healers and cultural stewards for many decades.”

Menes is married to Mama Nyaah, who is also a partner in his work. His grandson Rasheed is following in his tradition, graduating from the Berklee College of Music and is now teaching music at a Brooklyn Public School. He can be reached at 718 342 6257 address or at Cosmic Enterprise at 147 Rockaway Avenue in Brooklyn NY 11233.