Growing up in Ghana, Kofi Dennis was not exposed to music.
Not directly, anyway.
Dennis' parents, strict in their religion, did not allow drumming or music. Little did they know, Dennis was hearing rhythms and music in everyday life. Dennis did not realize how musical his childhood was until he had been removed from it for a while before returning to teach in Ghana.
Then he heard the candence of a traditional call and response. The musicality and rhythm of field workers. And it all clicked.
The sounds moved him, and he wanted to share them with anyone who would listen. So he began telling stories and coupled them with the rhythms they inspired. He taught himself to drum and spends his time in drum circles as a way to communicate and relate to other people.
When congregants of in Oakton heard Dennis perform at Wolf Trap, they asked him to lead drum circles at the church. He did and continues to do so, and also agreed to kick off the church's 2011-12 Benefit Concert Series, which he did Oct. 14.
Unable to separate music from any part of his life, Dennis performs with his three daughters, though one is now at college. His two youngest, 16-year-old Araba and 11-year-old Bredow, performed with him at the UUCF show.
Just like their father, the children don't see the performances as work. They've been drumming ever since they can remember and both don't see an end in sight.
"We've been playing for so long and it's really given me a good sense of stage presence. I'm a lot more confident in front of people now," Araba said. "I plan on doing this for as long as possible. It's just a great skill and great thing to share with other people."
Janene Pence, a UUCF member, attended with her husband and grandson because the show's concept of mixing African rhythms with stories both intrigued her and seemed family-friendly. And Dennis' infectious smile and boundless energy did not disappoint.
"I love the stories and legends," Pence said. "The one comment he made about leaving Ghana and them coming back, and that's when he saw all the rhythm around him. It's true for everything we do. When you get away from it, you can gain some perspective."
Proceeds from the concert benefit Dennis' chosen charity Children's Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization that promotes policies and programs that level the playing field for all children.
"I chose it because I've always been an advocate for the defenseless. I work a lot with preschool and kindergarten, so I see a lot of their needs. There should be some champions for them and that's what Children's Defense Fund is about," Dennis said.
UUCF's Benefit Concert Series continues 7:30 p.m. Nov. 18 with a performance of chamber music from members of the National Symphony Orchestra. Proceeds will benefit Fairfax Arts Coalition for Education.