Please excuse the delay this was yet another whirlwind week. After my last post I spent one more week at Dagbe cultural center in the village of kopayeia and then traveled back to the capital Accra for 10 days with African flute master Dela Botri.
My final week at Dagbe was good. The two weeks I spent there were probably the most authentic musical and cultural experience I got. Those guys were there for me to learn and they didn't mess around. They pushed me hard and I really got a lot out of it. They were loving and welcoming but had little patience for a slow pace of learning so I was really working hard to keep up. The environment there is hard to describe coming from the west. It's a small village right on the border with Togo of about 500 people total. I couldn't find it on google maps when I searched it. There are no industries except (mostly subsistence) agriculture, crafts, alcohol selling and fermenting, and this music center. Like Medie there was this grandfather figure with his picture on the walls who had four wives and everybody around there seems to be descended from him. There were people with some serious health problems that were visible and it generally felt like a totally different world--more so than anywhere else I've been. It's also the major birthplace of American scholarship on west African music. The founder of this school Godwin Agbelli seems like he was a super enterprising musician who saw the market for westerners to learn African drums and just worked tirelessly to corner that market and spread his culture. This week I read some books about ewe drumming and the majority of the pictures were from this village. I even recognized a childhood picture of one of my instructors. Crazy.
It was also a little bit of an uncomfortable place for me. The inequality was just a little too in-your-face. I had many teachers ask me to leave clothing, medicine, and money behind. I got scammed a couple times by the people I thought I was making friends with, and after observing a group of kids playing a sort of patty cake game, about ten of them followed me all the way to my room asking for money.
I saw two more funerals which are just huge all-day parties that are so fun and musical and highly alcoholic. I woke up at 4:30 am to drive with one of the teachers to the city of Ho and we arrived at 6:30. By 7:30 we were sitting around and everybody was getting sauced... Including me... And I was like "oh my God I would not even be awake by this time if I were in Denver right now"
They ferment this wine from palm oil there and it's really delicious (haven't gone blind yet) but then they leave it for longer and it becomes this hard liquor called apateshi (sp?) that made me cry when I first had it. Many people seem to drink it every day. It also gets used in a lot of ceremonies so It's this weird mix of spirituality, alcoholism, and poor man's boredom. It was nice to get away from that, I don't think I've felt that much of a constant presence of alcohol since orientation at Oberlin. Kind of fun but it starts to mess with your sleep after a while and communicating "no, I'm wasted" was always a struggle.
Then I drove to Accra hoping to apply some of this rhythmic knowledge to the saxophone and this antenteben Ghanaian flute. I took my first lesson with Dela and it went really well. He's just a super nice guy and I think he was pleasantly surprised that I know a little about music already. He invited me to sit in at his gig the next day and then things really got fun!
Like India there are very few good sax players here so the band was excited to hear a new sound. I ended up playing every gig with them that week and recording a track in the studio with them. Dela and I "composed it together" which means I sat there and learned it as Dela had flashes of inspiration.
I Learned more from this than I can put into words. I'm realizing more and more that we don't have adequate words for rhythm and emotion and that that is sort of the point here. But Basically I really heard the application of the "solo like a drummer" woodwind mentality and I got to get a feel for playing in a band after spending a month learning more about what that band is actually doing. I also made one genuine friend in Ghana. That means a lot to me. I kind of made friends in India and KSS was something sort of like a friend, but Dela and I really hung out and developed a bond that was something more than money or obligation or a job.
It helps that this music and this culture is way more similar than anything I learned in Asia. It also is just nice to play sax with a band that doesn't suck. And oh man this percussionist he uses is in the national traditional music ensemble for Ghana and he is just such a beast and so musical and also hilarious.
I'm headed home now and I don't know quite how to feel. I really loved Ghana and I want to go back there more than any place I've been before. It's corny but there's something here for all of us I think. Something way under the surface about just being a person. Again cheesy but it's a soulful soulful place. These words aren't quite it but: joy, suffering, and a connection with our ancestors and the natural environment I just felt these things thicker in the air than I feel elsewhere.
I'm excited to go to Cuba and I'm excited to have a little rest. I've been gone about eight months now and the way things are shaping up I might go straight to Cuba to Stanford to moving so it will be good to spend some time with my family. It's funny because I'm going back but it's no grand arrival, my life is just going to keep moving and I just need to try to keep learning and focusing on the music. I don't feel super happy or super sad... But I definitely do feel very grateful.
**Interesting side notes from my reading this week: Ewe-along with many west African languages-- has no word for "music." There are names for songs or particular dances but the art form isn't named in the abstract. Perhaps there is something so omnipresent and internal about music here that it needs no separation from just "life."
Also the word "Yo" is one way of saying hello and goodbye in Ewe. I always thought that "Yo" as we use it was some sort of distant relative of "hello" but this seems like a more compelling and likely source. In either case, language clearly is related to music and I think this bears similar parallels to other details in music: Ex. is the swing beat more of an africanized french march or an anglicized axatse pattern? Most think the former but what is the real truth and does it matter?...