Dancing to the rhythm of Fantasia

(Wagner lays the beat for Fantasia's performance. By Bailey Morrison.)

FSU welcomed the joyful percussion rhythms of Boston-based Grupo Fantasia on Monday as part of the Midday Performance Series.

Grupo Fantasia is the brainchild of musical director Angel Wagner, a master percussionist and Berklee College of Music alum. The band was originally formed in 1993 with musicians from all around the world to perform Caribbean music, but also as a way to bridge the Atlantic Ocean and bring traditional African percussion performed on indigenous instruments to the area.

Many of the pieces that Fantasia performed were traditional African rhythms from countries as geographically diverse as Nigeria and Mozambique. According to Wagner, these continent-spanning beats form the most critical base of modern American music.

“All music is connected back to Africa,” Wagner said, in response to a question posed from the audience on the influence of African music on New Orleans jazz.

Most, if not all, of the music coming from Africa that shaped the musical traditions of Latin and American culture in the New World has its roots in religious music, according to Wagner.

If you strip away the modern musical processes of contemporary American pop, rock and R&B, you can definitely hear the essence of what Wagner is saying in the beats of Fantasia.

The instruments the group uses are all handmade and traditional, ranging from the large and imposing West African conga drum, to the traditional Nigerian “chimpe,” to a quirky oblong-shaped instrument Wagner referred to as the “African chicken,” to the simple cowbell.

The warped, washed-out sound of the drums was complemented by the sharper, more tinny tones from the cowbell and beads.

Halfway through the performance, Wagner encouraged the audience to get involved.

“Now it is time for you guys to participate,” Wagner said as a crowd of young children from the daycare program stormed on stage in delight.

Audience participation did not begin and end with the kids, however, and FSU students and faculty in attendance were encouraged to go on stage and prove their musicianship as well.

Freshman Leo Souza was called to the stage on a couple of different occasions, adding the notes of FSU to the rich sound of Fantasia.

“It made me feel connected to the culture,” Souza said.

Fantasia ended a set of mostly African traditional rhythms with a Cuban “rumba” featuring a solo conga performance. Rumba is a genre of music that relies heavily on percussion rhythms that can largely be traced back to Africa, according to Wagner.

Grupo Fantasia incorporates these traditional African instruments and rhythms in a way that feels genuine and instructive, helping to bridge the cultural divide that separates the music of the Americas from its spiritual roots.

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