Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Trip to Ghana changed drummer's life

  • Print

It was more than 20 years ago that Jay Stoller first learned how to play.

Little did he know, it would take him to Ghana to hone his craft and to meet his wife Hamdiya.

Now the 42-year-old Winnipeg substitute teacher takes others to Africa through his company to share in the experience.

"I got into African drumming when I was going to the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Music," Stoller said. "I lucked out, and I met someone there who was running an African drumming group."

Following university, he travelled to the University of Ghana in west Africa in 1995 to hone his skills and knowledge of traditional drumming. He stayed almost three years and earned a diploma in African music.

"It’s a style of drum that you play with your hands," he said. "Playing with the hands, you’re able to express yourself directly with the instrument. What you’re thinking and what you’re feeling, it just depends on how you hit the drum and move your hands."

Back in Winnipeg, he began offering drumming workshops and working with various drumming and dance groups. He also started importing hand-made djembe drums from Ghana to sell, and became part owner of the Manitoba franchise of Drum Café, a Vancouver-based company that specializes in helping companies build teamwork by having employees learn to play African drums together.

Last year, Stoller took his drumming classes to a new level. He escorted seven of his adult students to Ghana for a three-week drum and dance tour. It’s co-organized with Stoller’s drumming partner in Ghana, who is the master drummer with the national dance company of Ghana, the Ghana Dance Ensemble.

A second tour group of five left for Ghana Jan. 9. Information about the trips is on Stoller’s website.

Bonnie Jenkinson, who was on last year’s trip, said her experience was life-changing.

"There’s a spiritual thing about the people," she said. "The people there are just somehow more in touch with being alive.

"When I got off the plane here last year after having been there for almost a month, I could see myself being retired, because I could see myself doing something. It would be to go back there and to do volunteer work for two or three months every year."

On last year’s trip, participants took hands-on classes in traditional drum and dance in three regions of the country, to experience the cultures of the different tribes. During the trip, they stayed in mud-and-grass homes.

Robert Luger, who also went on last year’s trip with his wife Kathryn, said it allowed him to see a part of west Africa up close.

"We didn’t see the county out of an air-conditioned huge tour bus and staying in five-star hotels," he said. "We rattled around the country in a little mini-bus with the windows open and our heads hanging out like everyone else in the country.

"It taught me that people can live simply with very little and be very happy. They’re the most contented people I think I’ve ever been around."

Stoller said it’s experiences like this he wants those on his tour to bring home — plus a wider appreciation of drumming.

"Regardless of what I can teach in my drumming classes or what people can see here in a concert, you can never replicate the experience of seeing and hearing the drums in Africa."

When not teaching drumming or substitute teaching in the Louis Riel School Division, Stoller works with the Ghanian community and its children’s dance group.

Through his work and tours, Stoller said he wants his students to develop a deeper appreciation for African culture.

"I want them to have a deeper understanding of how the music and dance relates to the culture that you can’t teach or experience here."

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jets fans take Anaheim by storm

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A monarch butterfly looks for nectar in Mexican sunflowers at Winnipeg's Assiniboine Park Monday afternoon-Monarch butterflys start their annual migration usually in late August with the first sign of frost- Standup photo– August 22, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Susan and Gary Harrisonwalk their dog Emma on a peaceful foggy morning in Assiniboine Park – Standup photo– November 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

  • Africa edition

    Africa is one complex and gloriously unmanageable 'theme' to choose to kick off our 2012 series, Our City Our World, which is why it took up the whole newspaper on Jan. 18.

  • China edition

    Hard-working Chinese immigrants, once banned, have risen to the highest echelons of Manitoba.

  • Germany edition

    German immigrants have played a surprisingly large role in the development of the province.

  • Iceland edition

    Arriving in Manitoba in the 1870s unprepared for a brutal winter, Icelandic settlers and their descendants have left their mark on our province.

  • Italy edition

    Industrious Italians rose from peasant roots and adapted to Canadian society by mastering L’art d’arrangiarsi (the art of getting by).

  • Latin America edition

    It used to be the only time Prairie folks met Spanish-speaking people was when they vacationed down south. More often now, they're the people next door.

  • Middle East edition

    When the first Middle East families immigrated to Manitoba, mosques were unheard of and even yogurt was exotic. But now all that has changed.

  • Philippines edition

    A booming Filipino community nearly 60,000 strong has transformed Manitoba.

  • South Asian edition

    As the city's Indo-Canadian population experiences dramatic growth, its pioneers recall their warm Winnipeg welcome.

  • Ukraine edition

    Scarred by Holodomor, the Ukrainian community helped shape Winnipeg's cultural mosaic.

  • United Kingdom edition

    Manitoba's history is built on a foundation provided by settlers from the U.K., who came here seeking better lives.


Do you agree with the sale of the Canadian Wheat Board to foreign companies?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google