By TRACY SCHUHMACHER | ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE
Just four months ago, the dreams of the musicians in the African drumming troupe Womba Africa felt tantalizingly close. With little money in their pockets, they had moved from Ghana to Rochester. They had found a place to live and were adjusting to life in America. Word had spread that the energetic cultural group was in town, and they were getting booked to play at schools, libraries and festivals.
They had journeyed to New York City to audition for America’s Got Talent, where they performed center stage in the holding room and charmed the crowds in Times Square. And an article about them ran in several Gannett newspapers, bringing calls for bookings from around the country.
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They’ve got talent: Womba Africa came to Rochester dreaming of making ‘America’s Got Talent.’
And then the coronavirus made its stealthy approach. One by one, local and national bookings began to cancel. Like other musicians, they turned to Zoom to reach their fans over the internet. “It’s not the same as in person,” said Quaye Odai, the group’s founder. “We did what we had to do.”
Meanwhile, they anxiously awaited a call from America’s Got Talent. It has yet to come, and the season premieres Tuesday night.
With a cultural visa that requires their income to come from music, they grew concerned about whether they could survive in Rochester. But the people they met in Rochester have helped keep them afloat, and they never have lacked for food.
“I really appreciate the people in Rochester,” Odai said. “They’ve been so sweet to us.”
Now past the halfway mark on their one-year visa, their optimism has begun to increase along with the sunshine.
“There’s still possibility in the future,” Odai said.
From Ghana, they got word they were awarded best international cultural band/group of the year from the Gadangme and Ewe Music and Film Awards.
They have ventured out to Rochester’s neighborhoods with their joyful music, while also practicing social distancing, and have received a warm response. Another Zoom performance is planned for 4 p.m. May 30.
A few bookings remain on the calendar, including one in Atlanta in July and another in Virginia in September. They are hoping that some events will be rescheduled for the fall.
They also are at work on a dance workout DVD and online drum and dance classes. They have started the process to extend their visas for a second year to make up for the time that they missed due to the coronavirus.
And tonight, they will be watching the premiere of America’s Got Talent, hoping they might get a glimpse of themselves from their time at the auditions.
“That would be cool,” Odai said with a smile
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