Meet Percussionist Sowande Keite

HFCC kicked off the Black History Month festivity on February 6, in the Student Activities Center, with a visit from the Omowale Cultural Society. The Omowale Culture Society travels to different parts of not only the United States, but to different countries as well.
They teach the culture behind the African music called Mandeng: parts of Africa, celebrations, family traditions and the meaning of the different types of drums and their names. The OCS African Drum and Dance Theatre performed traditional music and dances from Africa and the African Diaspora. One of the key group members is percussionist Sowande Keite.
Growing up in the Motor City of Detroit, Michigan, Sowande started to absorb African Drumming when he was 13 years old. His late father, King Sundita Keita, was the main reason Sowande became a percussionist. Sowande’s father made the Omowale Culture Society in 1979, along with his wife Keaemba, just a few years before Sowande was born. Being just a teenager when he joined his father’s side in being a percussionist, Sowande started on the adult level of learning to play the drum called a djembe.
“My dad was the first to teach students who were already adults and we never had any kids wanting to learn, so my brother Ayinde and I learned on a more professional level,” Sowande said.
Sowande became involved by following his father’s footsteps, but was also attracted to the evolution of the pop culture.
“Pop culture is always evolving and I am always listening for new ideas and want to experiment on how long they will continue before something new comes along,” he said.
With every new experience comes something to learn from. Whether it’s getting in deep with the sharks or being on top of the world, one will always have something to teach afterwards. Sowande shared that his most learning experience in Mandeng music was how people act and what they contribute to life itself.
Sowande said, “As a leader, you understand what everybody brings to the table is important and nobody is equal, lesser, or greater.”
One of Sowande’s goals, while being a part of this group, is to keep the legacy going. When Sowande was 21 years old, his father passed away due to diabetes. He wanted to keep the memory of his father alive by introducing Mandeng to his son.
“I want to keep the torch going within the family,” Sowande said.
Sowande says the best thing about being a part of the Omowale Cultural Society is working with people and traveling. One of the most memorable places he traveled to was Kigali, Rawanda, East Africa. He worked for a group named Afroflow.
Being in the business of performing for audiences comes with many perks. For example, one of the perks for Sowande was traveling and working and meeting different people. A few of the people he met were Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Producer Clive Davis who produced singers such as Whitney Huston and Alicia Keys.
“I never take meeting celebrities lightly,” Sowande said. “It’s always a great experience meeting stars in the music business.”
Sowande says one of the greatest experiences is playing at Henry Ford Community College. He and the Omawale Culture Society have been at HFCC three times in the past four years. Considering the type of the crowd of people, Sowande commented, “There is no greater audience, an audience is an audience. Everyone is equal, no one is lesser or greater. We are all the same.”
“I really like working with Ms. Fluker along with the students here at Henry Ford Community College because we were able to sit down and review some ideas for future performances.”
Where there is a passion for an aspect of life—whether it’s being a pilot, fireman, actor, doctor, or a magician—there is always someone to look up to. Sowande’s primary role model is his father. He said the best aspect of his father was his humanitarian side.
Sowande’s future goals are to learn more about music production and finish his years at Wayne State University. When he graduates, he wants to mix his studies with music and teach them from an educational point of view.
“Graduation is anticipated,” Sowande said.
While looking back at his life, Sowande said, “There is no joy without music and there is no music without joy. So let’s make great music and be happy for life itself.”

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