Dienstag, 24. Juli 2012

Childhood drumming

In my childhood I loved music a lot. So everywhere music was playing, either traditional or music which is not familiar to me, I was listened and enjoyed it. I understood some of  the text and some songs, but I didn’t know what it was about. I just let it enter me and it told me the whole story.

 I then followed traditional music groups from the Northern Togo, who lived in Nima, Accra. They often played at marriages and birthday parties. During ceremony all the elders and the women will sit in a circle. One is bringing the songs and the others are responding.  Sometimes you can see tears flowing from some people of the group. It was touching them. They then will jump into the middle oft he circle and began to dance. Others gave them coins. The musicians will then kneel down and pick up the coins. If one of the musicians stopped playing and pick up the coins, it brought the spirit oft he music down.

One day there were many people dancing and a lot of coins fell on the floor. It was too much for the drummer to pick it, so I went in and helped him to pick the coins. Suddenly he left all the picking of coins to me and played. I brought those coins to the leader of the group, he arranged it and the women came and changed it into bigger notes. I think this is how they earned their money. In the end they thanked me so much and gave me some of the coins.

Everytime I heard them, I run and stand near by them. The leader will touch my hair with a friendly welcome. I didn’t speak their language ,we communicated in Haussa. I will be with them for hours, working with them. They introduced me to other groups also, such as the Nigerian talking drum players, the Kidi-group.

I loved to do this, because in the end I am proud in front of my friends. The group had important people with them, like their chiefs, queenmothers and royals, and it was not easy to get closer to them. Specially as I am not even a moslem, nor speaking their language. I am Fante and Christian. But they just watch me as a helper and let me do the work. In the end they began to let me change the money.

This gave me the courage to form my own group with my friends and…with milk cans and Milo (chocolatedrink) cans.

Because I was there everytime the musicgroup performed so their music became familiar to me. So we the children group tried to play the same.

Sometimes we tried to sing their songs, but we don’t know what we are singing. The elderly people of the Northern Togo group will pass by and smile to us. This showed to us, that we did well.

Since then I was always looking to join a real music group, but at the same time I was afraid, that I maybe cannot do it.

So one day I went and see at the roman church school in Nima and they were drumming and dancing. I was very interested, but I didn’t know how to approach them.

So I went home and still played my can drums with my friends.

One day a friend of mine, whose father was a traditional priest, had a ritual ceremony. There was a lot of traditional music from the Ewes going on in their house and compound. Because of his son, many of the priests knew me. So I could get closer to their ceremonies, though I am also not Ewe.

Among the Ewe drums my friend was playing the Kaganu ( a smal ewe drum). I was sitting beside him and one of the priest came suddenly with a second Kaganu. He gave it to me and brought also a stick to play.

As I listened this rhythms and music a lot, I didn’t feel difficult to watch my friend and play. I think the two of us just felt happy or we don’t know what it was, that you can feel the music was cooking and heating the priests and the audience. It was powerful day and many of the traditional priests came out with their powerful performances.

Today I remember these days and I can see, how much research I have done for myself in those days, without realising it.  

I talked a lot about groups in Ghana already and those who gave me courage to have a very big interest in the traditional music was the Sankofa group in Art Centre Accra.

One day I followed my elderly friends to the Accra beach near the Art Centre. By this time didn’t know anything about Art and its Centre. As we walked through the Centre I heard drumming, but I didn’t hear this rhythm before. The music called me and drawed all my attention away from going to the beach. I went near and found out that you are allowed to watch the group. I asked the friends I came with to stay with the group. They agreed, but I have to stay in the Centre until they came back from the beach and get me again to go home. Because there are always a lot of people on the beach and I could easly get lost.

I enjoyed this day so much. The whole rehearsal of the Sankofa group was so amazing. What I was so surprised about was, that some of them are in the age of my father or mother. But they were on fire. The dances they did and the rhythms they played was not familiar to me.

Later I found out they are playing Tora, Takai, Adjagbeko, Kpanlogo and many other dances which I know now and play it on every occasion.

In the following days I walked often from Nima to Accra to the Art Centre, which is about 90 minutes walk to find out if they are there again and play. I missed them and slowing I found out all the day of their rehearsals. On those days, I went to the Art Centre and there was no music, I saw them teaching the dances and rhythms to foreigners.

This gave me courage to take part in our primary school music events. I was doing well in the drumming and dancing courses. One day we have to play a theatre to thank our parents. Our master Mr.Dogbe wanted me to be the chief and pour libation before we start the show. The play was in the Ewe language.  By this time I spoke Ewe, but not fluently.

But the others in the classes, who didn’t speak Ewe at all were sad, but it was fun.

I that primary school all are mixed ethnics and religions. We had  lot of fun with this theatre. Master Dogbe would not give us  chance to fool around. So he really put us into work. We performed for our parents very nice with joy and happiness. In the end we called our artists name, which we got through the art course in the school. Some names were too big for us.

Today I feel pitty, there was no pictures or videos of this event, because the feedback was so great. This theatre gave me the power to look now seriously for a group to join.

I went to the roman church school and wanted watch their group. But I didn’t find it powerfull anymore. So I looked for another one.

It was difficult to find a group to join in 1980.

I saw a group playing on the funeral. They played some music and danced  like the sankofa group. As they closed I followed them up till New Town, Accra. I saw then where they put their drums. I asked one of them about their pracitice days. He told me and I came on that day to watch.

This group was known as „people’s cultural group“. I was afraid to ask them that I want to join, because I don’t know how they will test me. So for many months I always came and just stand behind them. Sometimes I was just standing behind the drummers, but they never asked me to go back.

One day I was earlier and only a few drummers were around busy. I picked up the bell and supported the rhythm they were playing. They played Agbadza and I knew it. One of them asked me where I come from. I told them, that I am from Nima. The leader introduced himself to me as Atsou Hehealolo. He told me, if I am interested in the group, they start rehearsal around 5 pm. If I could come earlier he can teach me. So I did.

I got knowledge of all the rhythms of the ten regions of Ghana with the bell. I played two years only the bell in the group. I sometimes felt shy, becaues everywhere we went I was behind the bell.

One day we have to perform in Nima and I asked the leader, if I could today play the kaganu, one of the supporting drum. He then laughed and told me, that I am not ready yet. You will one day sit behind the drums, if I can see that you arrived. He continued accusing me that I watch the bell as a shameful instrument, while I supposed to learn, that this is the leading instrument in the group. This instrument is keeping the rhythm and drive the music. Every music we play with the bell in, the bell is leading. There I felt a bit proud but still disappointed.

Today as a music teacher I tell my students exactly the same and understand their disappointed feelings very well.

Peter John Kofi Donkor

Donnerstag, 12. Juli 2012


On the 24th June we took part in the integration festival in Muri. The performance was great and you can really feel it in the audience. In the end of the festival I saw how people united, conversing with each other and it didn’t matter were you come from. That reminded me what music was doing in our area district in Accra some years ago.

Some years ago there was a misunderstanding among the young people of the area, which affected us so much for many years. We could not use some ways  and they were also banned of using our passages. Everywhere we meet, there was a tension.

There is a traditional music called Bobobo . Anywhere we heard this music, we the boys from the area were dancing, because it was touching so much with its rhythms and dance. The Bobobo rhythm and dance was like a disco for us. We didn’t get this music often, so everytime we heard the bobobo music in a different area, we even will walk one hour to go and dance it.

One day we went to Kotobabi, an area in Accra, where bobobo was playing. They had there own dancers, but we danced around the music with a lot of audience. Suddenly we saw our neighbours, which we are not fine with them. Their group was also there to dance. We are all dancing, but our eyes were wide open on both sides. You can feel the tension was very high from both sides. Non of the audience and the bobobo group knew about our problem.

Then one of their member approached my colleague with a very strong dance movement. He then responded with weaked steps. Their conversation with the dance draw the attention of the audience. They started to cheer and clap for the two. That incouraged us to form a circle around them. Everybody was giving his colleague a support. One of the other group came and took over in the middle of the circle. One of our member also went and took over. It became like a tiny competition, but with a lot of laughing and cheering from the audience. Many of the audience know our group as artists. So they belived we are going to win. We understand the bobobo rhythm and its movments very well. Mostly we were dancing according to the leading drummer. But our opponent didn’t know anything about this bobobo. They just danced freestyle. Some weaked movements which were coming from them was getting more fans from the audience than we did. Sometimes we even were impressed about their dance. This went on for hours.

Suddely a song came out from the bobobo group, which is standing for unity and love. We all respond it with loud voice. This song was a very popular song and everybody knew it.

We then danced in a circle according to style each person will bring.

We danced together until the bobobo group closed. We all, our enemy neighbours and we sang together and walked to our area. We reached our area, continued singing together and we led them to their area and continued singing there.

Since this day, all the tension which was inbetween us and disturbed us so much and we were afraid of each other, vanished without judgement. We became good friends till now.

This is the value of the traditional music with its movements and songs. It heals wounds and brings togetherness. It is  touching me so much and makes me happy, if I remember that it is „only“ bobobo music and dance who brought us together again. The song enter our mind and we sang it with joy and happyness which opened our mind. None of us even made any comment about the past. It was just like washed away.

The reason why I am telling this memories is: as I went last time to Ghana in 2011 I saw our youth getting interested back into traditional music and movements. They just do it as fun. I am asking my fellow artists to also share their ideas on the line with our youth to get a better understanding about traditional music.

I learned a lot from a group called Sankofa, Ghana dance ensemble, Kokrobite academy obonu group, school of performing arts and panafrican orchestra. And many groups from Greater Accra Region.

We followed the footsteps of many artists of Ghana. Why don’t we share ideas with the youth as they are using the internet more than we do. They might come a across your website or blogg to read and learn something from it. I am asking all artists which some of them I know personally, we should bring our talent out. We should not be scarred of the media and think somebody will take it. Nowadays everything is in the net.

You can even read about the archive of your little village in Africa in the net.

We should try to be open.

If you use your ingrediant and bake a cake. Then you find out someone has baken the same cake with a different color, you have two possibilities and benefit. The possiblity 1 is, change some ingrediants and bake another one. The 2. possibility is to add more. Its benefit is to get creativity.

 John Kofi Donkor