Manchester’s Theo Martey honored as NH Artist Laureate

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Theophilus (Theo) Nii Martey musician, dancer, drummer and NH’s Artist Laureate. Courtesy Photo

MANCHESTER, NH – On April 20 Theo Nii Martey of Manchester began his term as New Hampshire’s Artist Laureate, an appointment which will remain through February 18, 2024.

“Theo is a very talented musician and will be an excellent ambassador for New Hampshire’s vibrant arts community,” said Gov. Chris Sununu. “I look forward to seeing how much he will accomplish in our communities as New Hampshire’s artist laureate!”

The state of New Hampshire, through Chapter 3-D of the New Hampshire revised statutes, maintains an honorary position of Artist Laureate. Artists are appointed to two-year terms by the Governor and Executive Council through a recommendation provided by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

“For over two decades, I have been invited into dozens of schools across New Hampshire as an artist in residence, working with students so that they may experience West African drumming and dance hands-on,” said Martey. “To be named artist laureate is an honor, and I look forward to continuing to use music to empower others to discover their best selves and promote the importance of arts across the state and the region.”

Martey was born and raised in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. He is a songwriter, recording artist, producer, performer, teaching artist, and recipient of the 2019 Governor’s Arts Award for Arts Education.

His vibrant artist residencies give students an opportunity to experience hands-on West African drumming and a variety of dance styles. He has been on the Arts Council’s juried Arts Education Roster since 2005. Martey is an accomplished teacher of African drumming and dance and has received numerous grants from the New England Foundation for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, Massachusetts Cultural Council and New Hampshire State Council on the Arts to teach school residencies, workshops and performances in dozens of schools all over New England. He enjoys working in a variety of settings, with children and adults, making music, teaching rhythms and songs, and telling the stories behind the songs and the Ga’s tribe.

Twenty years ago Martey founded the Akwaaba Ensemble, which has performed concerts throughout NH, the northeastern US, Mexico and Canada since 2002. Each show brings West African drumming, music and dance to vivid life with rhythmic styles and patterns specific to tribal groups of West Africa. They have recorded two albums including “Akwaaba Welcome Home,” and “Jei Elaaje Wo (Lost in the World) which are available for purchase here.

Martey has collaborated with Randy Armstrong’s world fusion Ensemble, Steve Ferraris’ Root System, Dan Perkins and the Manchester Choral Society for the Zulu Mass and Christmas Tapestry project and New Hampshire Theatre Project for the Dreaming Again production and taught West African Drumming and Dance as an Adjunct Professor at UNH.  His work has contributed to international diversity and cultural understanding throughout NH and New England.  Whether he is on stage performing or leading a workshop, Martey says that making people feel welcome, which happens to be the Twi language’s meaning of “Akwaaba,” is the goal of everything that he does.

At the age of 6, Martey began performing with the African Personality Youth Ensemble and then joined the Shidaa Cultural Troup in 1989. At age 17 he joined the Dance Factory Company at the National Theater of Ghana in 1997, one of the most sought-after performance ensembles in Ghana. When in London in 2000-2002, he performed with the Brekete Drum and Dance Ensemble.

While touring with the Brekete Ensemble, Martey formulated the idea to create the Akwaaba Ensemble in 2002. The Akwaaba Ensemble’s energetic and engaging performances are a reflection of their name, which means ‘welcome’ in the Twi language of the Ashanti tribe of Ghana. At each performance the Ensemble brings West African drumming, music and dance to life, holding sway with the rich and subtle rhythmic patterns and styles specific to different tribal groups of West Africa.

In New Hampshire, the artist laureate is a two-year honorary position that receives no compensation. Artists are appointed by the Governor and Executive Council through a recommendation provided by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

Martey is the ninth artist laureate in the program, which was established in 1997.

Previous New Hampshire Artists Laureate

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