Today’s xylophone class was titled, “Where’s the One?” A frequent question from Western musicians studying African music and I count myself at the head of that line. It’s maddening to hear a melody one way and realize it’s “wrong” in terms of the grammar, syntax, relationship to the bell part and the dancer’s feet. My mission in life, whether it be teaching a little Ghanaian pattern or raising a toddler, is “get it right the first time. Because it’s very difficult to change it around in your head (and body) once your brain has wired it one way.
From there, on to the Ghanaian recorder, the atentenben. Different fingering and different concept of in-tune and both were interesting. But the lesson was mostly reading from a book, a familiar— and comforting for some— practice for us music teachers.
From there, we traveled to a local school, where we were greeted with throngs of people of all ages who were… well, take a guess. Playing, singing and dancing as we arrived, invited us into the center before the festivities formally started. We then were treated to a skit performed by the older kids theater class, that began with a homeless looking fellow grabbing his crotch and the pulling out a wooden dildo and stroking himself. Right in front of the principal, who was sitting there smiling while we all exchanged glances that translated to “What the heck?!” A story unfolded about different people’s relationship with this obviously crazy fellow and proceeded towards it moral conclusion: the bad mother tried to poison the crazy man with bread and her bad child stole it from him, unknowingly ate it himself and died. The moral was: take care of everyone in your community, even the crazy man.
Kofi later explained that political correctness has not quite come to Ghana yet. Anything is fair game as long as it’s attached to a moral. Life for the children is out in the open— they are not overly-sheltered and know about things like death, sex and drinking— not to necessarily lump those three things together! While I have to confess that though I often take things to the edge of appropriateness and felt mildly uncomfortable with the ever-reappearing dildo, I appreciate some of this point of view. Our Puritan ancestry pops up time and time again in American culture when people suggest you can’t sing a song to children about beer or play a Bessie Smith blues for 8th graders because of the subtle sexual innuendos. But meanwhile, the same parents that protest let their kids close their door to their room and bathe themselves in graphic sex and violence available at a button push. Without a moral attached or the company and guidance of an adult. If I had to choose between the two, I’d go with the Ghanaian way. But I’d still lose the dildo in the next skit— especially one performed for guests!
Meanwhile, the play ended, the kids introduced themselves and the crazy man said “I played the mad man but I’m not a mad man in real life.” There you go. He got the message. James, Sofia and I had prepared a few games to play with the kids, but we thought it would be inside a school in a classroom. Instead, we came into the open center under the trees and invited a few kids in and soon had hordes of them to play “Soup, Soup,” “Draw Me a Bucket of Water” and “Pakatumbe.” The kids picked it all up with lightning speed, both the motions and the words and it was no surprise— kids in oral cultures are masters of kinesthetic and linguistic intelligence, fluent in reading and imitating body language and quick with their ears with oral language. From there, on to general dancing and the woman who sat next to me for much of the ceremony with affectionate glances was tickled to finally see me dance. We had our photo taken and she asked that I send her one. Soulmates transcend borders— so fun to feel that instantaneous but passing connection in a mother/aunt/ sister kind of way.
By this time, our class of 35 was spread out with various clusters of kids around them, playing games, taking photos, chatting and so on. Kofi said that this will be an unforgettable experience for some of these kids. Dzodze is far from being a destination for Western tourists (we haven’t seen a single one yet), so indeed, some of these kids were seeing white skin for the first time. We reluctantly parted and returned to the hotel.
Evening was another performance, but it began with a group of us in a circle of chairs spontaneously playing some cute games: “Big Booty,” “Bippety-bop”, “I Love You Honey.” This blog too long to go into details, but as the performers came, dressed in their dancing costumes with markings on their face, they ended up joining the circle and playing with us. It’s one thing to watch them dance and marvel at their otherness, but ultimately more satisfying to have one of them hold your hand, look you in the eye and say, “I love you honey,” hoping to make you laugh so they can get a point.
From the games to another stellar performance and so ended the day. Lots of fun and food for thought.