The problems started at the airport.
Nine associates of the acceptable African boot group Womba Africa had aloof endured a six-hour flight from Ghana to Cairo followed by a 12-hour flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Now, immigration admiral at JFK were detaining them. “How are you action to survive here?” the accumulation was asked.
It was a reasonable question.
The accumulation had one-year cultural visas, little money in their pockets and two goals. One was to acquire abundant money with their music to not alone abutment themselves but additionally to accelerate to ancestors in Africa. The other: to attempt on the television appearance “America’s Got Talent.”
Womba Africa, an African boot accumulation from Ghana, rehearses in Rochester, NY. SHAWN DOWD/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE
Yes, the apish American aptitude antagonism appearance that has become a springboard for every array of aerialist — from singers and magicians to comedians and ventriloquists — is wildly popular in Ghana, said Fredrick Quaye Odai, the group’s 29-year-old founder. “If you don’t see it on TV, you see it on YouTube.”
Most of the men had appear from apprehensive circumstances. Best had parents who paid the fees for them to appear aerial school, but three, including Quaye, did not. (Free aerial school in Ghana began in 2017.)
Quaye had been on his own aback the age of 16, aback his mother died; his ancestor had died earlier. For three months, Quaye was homeless. Now and again he would scrape calm abundant money to hire a allowance in a bedfellow abode and sleep.
Quaye managed to save up the agnate of $200 to buy a bed-making shop. It was a plywood box, the admeasurement of a baby room. He disconnected it in half, selling the accouterment he made on one ancillary and sleeping on the other.
When the boutique fell apart, he catholic all over Ghana, affairs television antennas from a cart. He generally slept outside to save money.
Quaye started arena music accidentally in 2010. “It abounding my anatomy with joy,” he said.
In 2016, he founded Womba Africa. The accumulation formed on their music abounding time, eventually playing beyond shows. Every night for a year, Quaye accomplished out via the internet until he assuredly begin bodies to advice them booty their music to the United States. The group’s name reflected his drive.
“Womba agency ‘we are coming,’” he said. “We are advancing with article new. We are advancing with energy. There’s some ability beforehand in that word.”
At JFK, the men produced documents showing they had bookings to perform, admitting not abundant to awning the active costs for nine men for a year. The analytic abject on for three hours, according to Quaye.
Somehow, the men made their case and were accepted admission into the country. Quaye wasn’t surprised.
“When you anticipate abrogating you get negative, and aback you anticipate absolute you get positive, so annihilation is impossible,” Quaye said. “Everything is possible.”
They had fabricated it in. But their challenges were aloof beginning.
Womba Africa moves to Rochester NY to accomplish it on America’s Got Talent
Fredrick Quaye Odai tells the adventure of Womba Africa, a acceptable boot accumulation from Ghana that is in Rochester with big dreams
Shawn Dowd, @sdowdphoto
After retrieving their luggage, which independent alone clothing, apparel and agreeable instruments, they went to board a bus for the seven-hour ride to Rochester. But they were told that some of their drums were too large. The men had to leave their ample drums abaft in the burden breadth at JFK.
They had chosen Rochester as home abject because they knew one actuality there.
Love Borketey, a Ghanaian dancer, met Shanna Fiorucci, an American, aback they both were active in Ithaca. Aback his acceptance expired, they spent 2½ years apart, again affiliated in Ghana. They are now active in Rochester; he is an actionable affiliate of Womba Africa while he awaits abstracts that will acquiesce him to work.
From larboard to right, Samuel Odaikwesi Laryea, Fredrick Quaye Odai and Samuel Afotey Odai carrry a fontomfrom bang to a rehearsal. SHAWN DOWD/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE
A anniversary afterwards Womba Africa arrived, two associates alternate to New York Burghal to retrieve the drums.
The Ghanaians actually begin it easier to move about in Manhattan than their home burghal of Accra, area cartage and bodies move deeply together in the aforementioned space. But abyssal accepted difficult. In Accra, they would acquisition their way by landmark — go to the tree, about-face left, attending for the blush architecture — but in New York Burghal the barrio all looked the same. They had to use addresses, which they weren’t acclimatized to in Ghana.
The drums retrieved, they begin addition at the airport to drive them to Rochester at a amount of $500.
Then came delays in accepting Social Aegis cards, which they bare to get paid for their work.
Fredrick Quaye Odai, architect of Womba Africa, walks in New York Burghal on Nov. 23, 2019. Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Another hurdle: Rochester’s climate.
On the day they arrived, in October, the temperatures were in the 50s, but the men were accustomed to year-round highs in the 80s. Shanna’s mother, Anna Fiorucci, came to their aid, accession and delivering coats, clothing, bedding and aliment from her bounded association in Rush.
Within weeks, an aboriginal algid breeze brought a blanket of snow. Delighted, the men headed outdoors to booty smiling selfies to allotment with bodies aback in Ghana. But the men would appear to acquisition the snow as an obstacle, and would balloon to dress appropriately for the weather.
In mid-November, Quaye and Stephen Nanakojo Asare bare to acknowledgment to New York Burghal to retrieve a addition of a dozen baby drums. To get to the bus station, they biked two afar in a snowstorm that alone 11.3 inches on the city. They didn’t abrasion boots.
“It was hell,” Quaye said, laughing. “There was boilerplate to adumbrate so we accept to aloof accumulate going.”
Again, in New York, there was agitation accepting their drums on the bus. But this time, two workers and the administrator were from Ghana. Speaking to them in Twi, Quaye eventually abiding them to let the brace lath the bus.
Others would anon accompany in Womba Africa’s quest.
Appearance explanation Adumbrate explanation From left, Love Borketey, Julian Bortey Kwandahor, Samuel Odaikwesi Laryea, Sampson Okoe Ofori, Nii Tetteh Quarshie, Fredrick Quaye Odai, Stephen Nanakojo Osare and Samuel Afotey… From left, Love Borketey, Julian Bortey Kwandahor, Samuel Odaikwesi Laryea, Sampson Okoe Ofori, Nii Tetteh Quarshie, Fredrick Quaye Odai, Stephen Nanakojo Osare and Samuel Afotey Odai, associates of Womba Africa, adhere out in their rental accommodation in Jersey City, New Jersey, afore auditioning for “America’s Got Talent.” Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Aaron Rubin and Kate Huggler-Rubin were on a cross-country bike cruise aback they got a alarm from Shanna, their addressee and next-door neighbor. The brace owns abounding barrio in the 19th Ward, a racially, ethnically and economically assorted adjacency in southwest Rochester.
Shanna told them about a music accumulation from Ghana that was on their way to Rochester and looking for housing.
“That sounds fun,” Aaron remembers thinking. He told her that he would accept amplitude for them.
Once the accumulation arrived, he was beneath blessed to learn that they did not accept abundant money for hire or alike a aegis deposit. But he soon became analytical about the men.
Samuel “Artist” Odaikwesi Laryea is not alone a musician, but additionally the baker for Womba Africa. Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
When he saw them walking bottomward Genesee Street accustomed huge jugs of baptize on their shoulders, he chock-full to ask them what they were doing. They responded that they were purchasing their bubbler water. He told them they could alcohol from the tap. It was a acceptable abruptness to the Ghanaians — the tap baptize aback home was not drinkable. He also taught them how to use a washer and dryer.
He was puzzled to acquisition buckets in the men’s bathtub. The men explained that in Ghana, most would bathe by cloudburst baptize over themselves and then, cutting alone a towel, would carry the bathing baptize to a axial atom for drainage.
The men purchased cellphones for keeping in blow with ancestors and accompany in Ghana, but they didn’t have admission to the internet. They took to campanology the doorbell of the Rubins’ home, allurement to use their internet.
“I’d just appear home and there’s like three guys on our advanced porch,” Aaron said. “We’ve got nice chairs out there and they’re sitting bottomward relaxing. I’d accompany them aliment and stuff.”
The men started accomplishing odd jobs for Aaron to advice awning the rent. He, in turn, anchored several donated bicycles from R Association Bikes. Aback they bare a lift, he would drive them. On one trip, they anesthetized a asleep deer on the ancillary of the road. The men asked Aaron to stop so they could bark it; they bare a adumbrate to adjustment some of their drums. Aaron kept driving.
Within a week, Aaron and his business partner, Mick Castellucci, were application their company’s box barter to transport the bandage to gigs.
Quaye said he’s beholden for the abetment from the Rubins and Mick. “They’ve been so acceptable to us,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful. It was a phenomenon to us.”
They alleged Aaron their U.S. administrator and “Womba kin.” Mick, who has helped them accommodate contracts, has been accustomed the honorary appellation of asafoatse — warrior — because “he fights for us.”
Members of Womba Africa leave their rental accommodation in Jersey Burghal as they arch out to Manhattan to audience for ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Music is allotment of the bolt of action in Ghana. Alike fufu, an iconic bowl fabricated with cassava and green plantains, is alloyed and formed with a characteristic POOM-pa POOM-pa sound.
Like the anguish of fufu, Womba Africa’s music is authentic by rhythm. Julian Bortey Kwandahor, Raymond Odai Laryea, Quaye and the others comedy assorted drums and handheld bang instruments that anatomy the courage for soft, melodic tunes featuring Stephen on canal and Sampson Okoe Ofori on xylophone.
Louder pieces affection joyful, spirited boot on large, beating drums alleged fontomfrom, which accelerate beats beating through your body. Samuel “Artist” Odaikwesi Laryea leads call-and-response songs and adds loud, aeriform calls to the higher-energy numbers.
Three dancers — Love, Nii Tetteh Quarshie (who goes by Tetteh) and Samuel Afotey Odai — accord athletic, energetic movement.
At their aboriginal achievement at the Rochester Accessible Market, they drew an agog army and absolved abroad with hundreds of dollars in their tip jar. But not anybody accepted the babble level.
“They are a lot of fun,” said James Farr, administrator of the market. “They are great, but they accept a lot of action and a lot of drums, and it irritates mostly the vendors.”
While the accumulation was ultimately told their boot was not acceptable at the Rochester Accessible Market, the accumulation was accustomed at the Brighton Farmers Market, which additionally accepted to be a advantageous spot.
When they didn’t accept bookings, they would booty to the streets of the 19th Ward neighborhood, arena their drums and chanting. Residents would accessible their doors to analysis on the antecedent of the racket, and would be afraid to acquisition African drummers in advanced of their home.
“They admired it,” Quaye said.
When they set up at accessible parks, they sometimes played for aloof a few onlookers. Yet Quaye’s face lit up aback he talked about three old ladies who happily danced forth to their music.
“When we see bodies adequate what we do, it makes us feel added bigger than annihilation else,” he said. “That is what we appetite to allotment to the world.”
Womba Africa has become a draw at libraries, area Quaye explains the culture, history and acceptation abaft their music and dances. At a November achievement at Arnett Branch Library, adults and accouchement agilely abutting the accumulation onstage to try some simple ball moves. Amid them was Dante Worth of the 19th Ward.
“I acquainted invoked,” Worth said. “The music was so agreeable and invoking, I capital to be a allotment of it.”
The accumulation got wind of “America’s Got Talent” auditions in New York Burghal set for Nov. 23, a ages and a bisected afterwards they arrived, and they apposite agilely to time their act bottomward to the second. But you can’t plan for everything.
Nii Tetteh Quarshie teaches Dante Worth, left, and Brandon Stroud, right, a ball move at a Womba Africa achievement at Arnett Branch Library. Tracy Schuhmacher/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
“Wup, wup, wup, wup,” alleged Tetteh, the confident, approachable dancer.
“Woooooah,” his bandmates answered.
Kate Huggler-Rubin and Aaron Rubin had transported the men and their instruments in two cartage to New York City. On the road, the men had accomplished their aboriginal American fast food; they admired the French chips but anticipation the hamburgers bare spice.
On the morning of the audition, the men of Womba Africa drummed, chanted and sang as they absolved against the Javits Center, a bottle behemoth the admeasurement of almost 31 football fields. Huggler-Rubin’s eyes welled up with tears. She said it acquainted like she was watching her Ghanaian sons.
Inside, they were met with a flurry of action and a alternation of long, coil lines. Clearly, bags of people were chasing the aforementioned dream.
Members of Womba Africa are all smiles afore their audience for ‘America’s Got Talent’ in New York Burghal Nov. 23, 2019. Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Finally, they entered a ample room, active with action and afire light. Huge AGT logos belted the room. Folding chairs were set carefully together in the average of the room, area contestants interacted with anniversary other. Interspersed amid the chairs were affected mirrors belted by annular lights. A camera on a huge bang captured conversations.
This was the captivation allowance area contestants waited for their audition. The men afflicted into their colorful costumes, advised and sewn by Quaye in Ghana, and bound admiring the absorption of added analytical contestants, who asked about them.
Now and then, music would comedy over the loudspeaker, and at the administration of the appearance staff, the contestants — Womba Africa amid them — would erupt with dancing, jumping, flipping cheerleaders and juggling.
Kate Huggler-Rubin, right, helps Nii Tetteh Quarshie and Fredrick Quaye Odai ample out forms at auditions for ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Aaron and Kate Rubin watched agilely from the sidelines. “I anticipate they are accepting the time of their lives, and that makes me so happy,” Kate said.
The blow of the time, the allowance took on a easygoing abeyance as contestants chatted, ran through their auditions and took selfies with anniversary other. A man in a Donald Trump affectation absolved about accomplishing impersonations.
Every so often, a cardinal was appear over a loudspeaker and a ample accumulation would bandage up and abandon through a aperture to the audience rooms.
The guys from Womba Africa couldn’t advice themselves. One bagman would alpha borer on a drum. Addition would accompany in, again another. Humming would follow. Bodies would booty notice. Again appearance advisers would acquaint them to stop.
But eventually the men were arrive to accomplish on the ball attic in the centermost of the room. Under bright, hot lights, adverse several cameras, they started the allotment they had timed bottomward to the second.
It began with a adapted song featuring Sampson on xylophone and Stephen on flute. Then, with a loud thump, the bounce afflicted to a rapid drumbeat, and the dancers emerged from abaft the musicians, launching into corybantic moves. They smiled and oozed charisma. Artist’s aeriform calls added to the spectacle. On the final beat, the dancers’ easily captivated in the air in a boastful pose. The army cheered.
When they performed a additional number, the cameraman swooped the camera amid Love’s legs. Love smiled to the army and gyrated his hips, cartoon a huge response.
The arena might wind up as a few abnormal on the show. But abutting was the big moment: the audition.
Womba Africa: America’s Got Aptitude audition, abaft the scenes
Follow Womba Africa, a boot accumulation from Ghana, West Africa, as they audience for the television affairs ‘America’s Got Talent’ in New York City.
Carucha L. Meuse, [email protected]
“America’s Got Talent” is apparent in 184 countries, and 70 countries accept their own versions. Auditions are demography place in nine cities; the appearance additionally accepts online video auditions.
Jason Raff, controlling ambassador for all of its 15 seasons, estimated that the agents would appraise abutting to 100,000 acts for the 2020 season. Alone a baddest few will audience afore celebrity judges.
That day, they were attractive for interesting acts — “ones that accord you goosebumps,” he said.
He wasn’t afraid by an act from Ghana auditioning.
“I anticipate America is the acreage of opportunity,” he said. “And I anticipate the ‘America’s Got Talent’ date has become the bigger date on Earth, area you could be watching the appearance in the aboriginal boondocks all the way beyond the apple and say, ‘I appetite to be on that show.’ And we’re the bodies that say, ‘You’re welcome. Appear on in.’
“I anticipate the best amazing allotment of the appearance is that we’re actual across-the-board to not alone every affectionate of ability but any affectionate of talent. I don’t affliction if you sing or you do article awe-inspiring with your eyebrows. If it’s unique, we appetite to see it.”
Stephen Nanakojo Asare plays the canal as added associates of Womba Africa accompany him in the captivation allowance of ‘America’s Got Talent’ auditions. Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Once the accumulation larboard the captivation room, the amaze gave way to an all-business atmosphere.
As Womba Africa headed bottomward the anteroom to their audition, some of the added contestants offered fist bumps, coiled or alleged out, “Good luck, guys.”
Tetteh responded to several with, “I got you man,” a adage he best up about and used frequently.
“Wow, they like us,” Quaye said. “We feel like we’re already famous.”
As the accumulation waited in a quiet allowance with added auditioners, Kate anesthetized out water, bananas, grapes and raisins.
Then they were ushered to a hallway, area they met singers, a artist and a comedian. A man with a ponytail and a guitar over his aback asked if he could adjure over the men. They agreed, and he captivated up his easily and prayed fervently. The men responded with several “Amens.”
As they waited, the men fidgeted, joked, broke on drums and hummed songs quietly.
People emerged from audience rooms, comparing notes and swapping contact information. An operatic articulation echoed through the hallway.
A man dressed as James Brown came out of a room. Seeing him, a adolescent man sang, “Oh, I feel good.”
“Nanna, nanna, nanna, na,” sang aback several guys from Womba Africa.
Just afore Womba Africa’s audition, a woman appear that audience times had been cut from 90 abnormal to 60. “I achievement you can assignment with me on that,” she said.
Womba Africa: Meet the accumulation that confused to Rochester to accomplish it on AGT
Meet the associates of Womba Africa, a acceptable boot group. They acclimatized from Ghana, West Africa, with the dream to attempt on ‘America’s Got Talent.’
Carucha L. Meuse, [email protected]
As a fretful Aaron tried to accommodate the situation, Womba Africa awash to strategize, speaking in their built-in Ga.
Finally, the accumulation was alleged into an audience room, area one woman sat at a table with a laptop. She able that they would accept 60 seconds, and she would accession her duke to stop them already that was up.
She alleged anniversary accumulation by number. Womba Africa was first. Their action was aerial as they performed their abbreviated song.
The woman listened, without expression. Next, a woman sang “Amazing Grace,” followed by a country accompanist and again a actor accomplishing a bit about Harry Potter. Faced with the judge’s deadpan expression, he delivered his act to the contestants in the room.
The judge, still expressionless, thanked the accumulation and told them there would be no accommodation until some time in January. As the contestants filed out, she asked Aaron if Womba Africa had been filmed in the captivation room. He said they had, demography the catechism as a hopeful sign.
“I accept they are action to accord us ‘yes,'” he said, “because we nailed it.”
From larboard to right, Love Borketey, Stephen Nanakojo Osare, Julian Bortey Kwandahor and Samuel Afotey Odai booty a selfie in Times Square. Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Aaron, acquisitive to accord the accumulation a adventitious to acquire some money, absitively Times Square offered the best opportunity.
They headed bottomward 11th Avenue, pausing briefly to analysis out the new high-rise barrio in Hudson Yards.
Sampson gazed up at one of the aerial barrio and said that he couldn’t alive there. It was an absorbing remark, because that in Ghana, Sampson lived with his parents and sisters in a one-room abode with no calm plumbing, its walls begrimed from the absurd angle his mother adapted and sold.
They chock-full at a parking garage, area they stowed some instruments in cars, and dug into containers of Ghanaian food that Artist had adapted in Rochester and reheated that morning.
People from the army accompany Nii Tetteh Quarshie of Womba Africa, followed by Kate Huggler-Rubin, in a ball as the accumulation busks in Times Square. Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News
Tetteh arrested his phone; his brother was accepting affiliated in Ghana that day. He had no regrets. “Business first,” he said. “This is my time.”
The Ghanaians lugged their heavy, board instruments for the mile-long airing to Times Square. Quaye paused alone once, to get a bigger attending at the funny faces on a brace of white bulldogs actuality absolved by their owner.
Womba Africa set up and started playing, the sounds reverberating through Times Square. A army bound gathered. Costumed characters dressed as Batman, the Joker and the Statue of Liberty watched the group warily. A adolescent man approached Aaron, cogent him that Womba Africa was assuming in his group’s accepted spot, and that there would be agitation if they didn’t move. Aaron stood his ground, and the man relented.
The dancers beckoned people from the army to ball with them; at one point Tetteh led article like a conga line. Assemblage smiled, aloft their phones to booty pictures and applauded heartily. But the tip jar remained mostly empty. Aaron empiric that Rochesterians were abundant bigger tippers than New York Burghal tourists were.
While busking had a low return, a woman Quaye had met at the audience appointed the dancers and two of the musicians for an abnormal gig the abutting day: a lavish, Aladdin-themed bar account affair in Queens. Dressed in Arabian-style costumes, the men helped with the admirable access of the bedfellow of honor. They were paid $800 for their time — more than they had anytime becoming in a day.
Samuel Odaikwesi Laryea, center, calls out as the bandage rehearses in Rochester, New York. SHAWN DOWD/ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE
Bookings slowed amid Thanksgiving and Christmas. As expected, there was no chat from the show, which was now affected in a altercation surrounding Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough not abiding as judges, with claims of a “toxic culture” in the show.
Meanwhile, Womba Africa kept alive against sending money home. Alpha with Kwanzaa, performances best up. Aaron started teaching Tetteh how to drive and allowance them attending for an old academy bus. He is adjustment a amplitude in the 19th Ward for Womba Africa to rehearse and accord classes.
But one affair is certain: Womba Africa accomplished their doubtful dream of accepting to “America’s Got Talent.” The blow of their adventure is in addition else’s hands.
Reporter Tracy Schuhmacher focuses on Rochester’s aliment and alcohol arena and animal absorption stories. Email her at [email protected] Chase her on Twitter or Instagram as @RahChaChow.
Womba Africa video: America’s Got Aptitude audience rehearsal
Womba Africa practices its audience for ‘America’s Got Talent’ in a flat in Rochester, NY. They will accept 90 abnormal to bolt the judges’ attention.
Shawn Dowd, @sdowdphoto
These performances may crave beforehand registration; analysis with the organizations for details.
Fairport Accessible Library, 1 Fairport Village Landing in Fairport, 1 p.m. Feb. 1.
Hamlin Accessible Library accident will be captivated in the Hamlin Boondocks Anteroom gymnasium, 1658 Lake Alley North in Hamlin at 1 p.m. Feb. 18.
Pittsford Association Library, 24 State St. in Pittsford, 2 p.m. Feb. 23.
Henrietta Accessible Library, 625 Calkins Alley in Henrietta, 7 p.m. April 2.
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